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September 21, 2011

The Yoga Teacher Workout ~ Hannah Siegle

It has become the norm in the fitness industry that the instructor does the class they are teaching along with their students. The spinning instructor spins, the kickboxing instructor kickboxes and the yoga instructor does yoga. Or does she/he?

Back when I began yoga I took classes at a Bikramesque studio. I went several times a week and had various instructors.  As is the norm in Bikram the teachers don’t participate in the class with the students. They stand at the front of the room barking out instructions and at times circulate among the students. This was the case at the studio where I took classes and all of the instructors followed this protocol. All except one. The first time I took her class I was confused. Why was she falling into the poses during our resting times? Did she know how distracting her rhino like breathing was? I left that first time thinking it was just a fluke, but in the subsequent classes I attended this behavior continued. There were times I almost walked out, and it wasn’t due to the heat. I left yoga more stressed out than when I had walked in the door from my long day of teaching high school students. The class was obviously her workout and it appeared as if she didn’t care at all about us, her students.

I moved on to other types of yoga in various studios and gyms fell under the assumption that it was normal for instructors in these styles to be doing the classes, since that is also what I saw when I popped in a yoga video at home. I never considered that a yoga video should be very different from a yoga class in the physical.  I didn’t fall under the same aggravation as I had with the Bikram instructor, but I did become obsessed with the visual of my postures and became ignorant of the how they felt in my body. This made it hard to advance my practice since I was oblivious towards proper alignment as well as muscular and organic energy.

The visuals I had been provided with had been a gateway towards a deeper practice, but were actually a hindrance towards any advancement in their presence.

I’ve found the advancement I was looking for and it hasn’t been in any classes where a teacher was participating in the practice.  The classes where I dive deeper are the ones where the teacher circulates, adjusts and listens. A simple assist into a poses can bring a “Aha” moment of what the pose should feel like giving a chance for the muscle memory to develop. For this I am most grateful to my teachers. One of my favorite teachers doesn’t even bring a mat to class!

The biggest shift in my teaching over this past year has been stepping away from doing the class along with my students, something that I was used to since it was what had been modeled before me. I believed that if I wasn’t doing the class the students wouldn’t have a visual and wouldn’t’ know what was going on. Not true.  A good yoga teacher is much more than a visual of how to move in a class. They instruct through their verbal cues and aside from brief demos are not taking part in their own class. The instructor experiences the class from inside their student’s bodies, adapting as necessary, offering guidance and gentle physical assists.  Doing this provides for a totally different experience for the student; an experience that differs greatly from just another fitness class.

The fitness of yoga is a byproduct of the true practice.

If a student always has the instructor doing the class with them, they never  have the opportunity to go truly inward and experience the feelings, both physical and mental that the postures evoke. Instead  they are always looking around and perhaps trying to make their postures look a certain way. The verbiage of instruction should be based in how to move into the poses and not what the final pose looks like. Admittedly this is something that I constantly work towards. Two people in the same pose may look completely different, yet may be getting the same benefits.  Each body is unique and brings with it different abilities and challenges in opening towards movement and flexibility. Bones come in many length and joints go into compression at different angles. Some of us will never be able to get into certain postures short of cutting apart our bones or rubbing our joints raw. Yoga means acceptance of these limitations and a growing acceptance of our bodies.

How do you prefer your yoga? Have you ever pondered this? If you are a teacher how do you teach?

Photos: Houstonzooblogs.org; Hannah Siegle

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Diane Jul 24, 2012 5:05am

When I trained as a Pilates teacher the message was clear: don't practice alongside. You can't see what your students are doing properly, and they can't see you properly if they're halfway into an exercise anyway. As mentioned above, it's very important for the visual learners to see the pose/exercise, but we demonstrate with the class sitting up watching, not while they're doing it. It amazes me to see so many teachers still basically ignoring what their students are doing because they're lying down or facing the other way. Your job as a teacher is to make sure your students are getting the best out of class – by demonstrating, adjusting, cueing, and checking form. The only place I could see it working is in a spin class where you're sitting up facing the class.

david Jul 23, 2012 9:15pm

I feel very fortunate to be in the Iyengar system. guidance and instruction are the principle focus of the instructor, if a demonstration is required ,it will be given, but the adjustments are the reason for the class so that the home practice does not become stagnant, etc.

Andie Jul 23, 2012 8:18pm

I teach Ashtanga Yoga and aside from sitting next to a student to show them how to safely bring a leg into lotus on occasion I have never demo'd along with the class. In my experience, and maybe I have been very blessed, none of my teachers did this either. Ashtanga Yoga teachers do not play music during practice and we are very meticulous about counting the vinyasa's and assisting students with adjustments and verbal cues. Every style of yoga presents in a different and unique way. In my experience, styles that use music and a lot of visual cues cause me to withdraw from the internal and meditative experience I should be having with my practice. My reccomendation is for teachers to call and assist students in classes. Especially to make sure students are moving through the asana's safely and are properly aligned to avoid injury. It is your responsibility as a teacher to guide the class, not perform for the class. You really can't be doing asana and observing your students to make sure they are doing the postures as properly as they can for thier individual ability. If you need to pace the class because you are a Vinyasa or flow teacher, practice your sequencing at home on your own so you can be present during teaching.

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Hannah Siegle

Hannah Siegle began to do yoga four years ago initially for the physical practice, however she quickly discovered that the yoga began to do her in ways she never anticipated. The mind, body and spiritual connection that yoga cultivates has helped Hannah through the ups and downs of life, both large and small. She regularly blogs at Balancing on Two Feet on topics such as yoga, mindfulness, eating disorder recovery and all those things people don’t like to talk about. She was trained at the RYT 200 through Laurel Hodory and is currently working towards becoming a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. She teaches yoga throughout Central Ohio with GoYoga ,yogaServe, and also works as an Assistant Editor for the elephant journal!