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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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