Three Silly Things They Told Me in My First Teacher Training. ~ Michael Graglia

Via Michael Graglia
on Aug 4, 2012
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What I Learned Not to be True in Teacher Training

I always start my sessions with the TTs (teacher trainees at the studio I teach for) the same way.  I ask them what their questions are, what they are still worried about. Last time, they asked about adjustments, sequencing, modifications, and many other things. Too many.

Was I like this as a teacher trainee?  Did I think that after a few weeks I would be able to know all there was to know about teaching yoga? Probably, in fact, I was likely worse.

I still remember three things I heard in my first teacher trainee that were given to us as dogma. Today, however, I would tell them exactly the opposite.

These three imperatives were heavy, I can see pretty advanced teachers pulling it off, but when I think about telling new teachers these things, I just chuckle.  Here’s what they said:

1)     Each class should have a pinnacle pose and sequence for it.

2)     Make sure you adjust or touch every student.

3)     Teach to the middle.

Here is why, with all due respect to the teachers who shared so much with me, I disagree on these.

Each class should have a pinnacle pose and sequence for it.

My advice is exactly the opposite, get your core sequence down cold. Make sure that if you don’t feel creative or have any time to think of something new for class you have a foundation that you can use every time.

And I call myself a Vinyasa teacher? Yep. I found myself saying to them, exactly what Sean Conley said in his first tip for new students: keep it simple. Once you have that foundational sequence, that framework, you will find all sorts of wonderful little bits to work in. As you take other classes with teachers, you will catalog this posture or that transition and weave it into your dance. But to think of making every class a creative experience focused on a specific pose stresses me out and I’ve been teaching for six years!

Ah ha! He’s a newbie. Yep. It will be at least another decade before I’d consider myself a good teacher, but I’ve been at this long enough to be sure this advice was too much for new students. Find your sequence, stick to it.

Make sure you adjust or touch every student.

Crazy talk. That’s just crazy talk. Four reasons.

  1. Teacher training is not Massage school. Touching human bodies is an art, that requires knowledge, skill and practice. You should neither assume you have those skills, nor expect yourself to do this.
  2. Even if you did know some good adjustments, if you are early in your teaching career, your quiet mind is working overtime as you talk to five, eight, a dozen, 20 students…and while you are learning to do that, you have to adjust someone too?
  3. Energy is real. This is really a whole other book, or at least a blog, but those Thai Massage and Reiki people are onto something. Touching in a yoga class can result in transfer of Prana, Chi, Energy, whateveryouwanttocallit. It takes some practice to become familiar with your own energy, to share it, and to ensure that you don’t unintentionally take on somebody’s negative vibes. Touching people requires full attention in these regards, so I would be very impressed if a new teacher was able to do this and keep a class going.
  4. If you adjust someone wrong, you can get sued. It is one thing to call out a pose and have someone tweak something, but quite another when you touch them and something goes wrong. Be very careful about touching people you don’t know, I still tend to limit assists to regular students and people I can see have a strong practice.

Teacher training may or may not be adjustment school. Go read Anatomy Trains, take a Thai Massage course in the Village and practice on some friends before you try adjustments in class. Adjusts can be very powerful, but it is better to wait a while and get them right than to get them wrong.

At this point, I’m hoping that experienced teachers are seeing my point, if not agreeing with me. So let’s go closer to conventional wisdom:

Teach to the middle.

When I hear this, I see the teacher avoiding interesting variations so as not to scare off the newer students and skipping over foundational modifications so as not to bore the more advanced students. This is missing great opportunities to really transmit knowledge.

What’s wrong with giving a few options? Extended side angle anyone? “Elbow on the knee, or hand on the floor. Feel free to bind. Too easy, go ahead and take Bird of Paradise, step your back foot…”

There are four options. The beginners have their option, the Jedis have permission to play and everyone sees how the poses sit together; the new students understand what lies ahead and the advanced students are reminded of how the poses stack, which is useful because advanced students are either teachers or they are going to be.

This might seem a bit early for new teachers, but I’m not certain. A teacher can think of a pose in at least two levels so they should feel free to share that. “Teach to the middle” is just a bit too constraining to my way of thinking.

In conclusion: keep it simple, don’t rush into touching people and feel free to give options. Go teach, it keeps getting better.


Editor: Seychelles Pitton

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About Michael Graglia

Mike Graglia is a certified Dharma Mittra, Acro and Rocket yoga teacher based in DC. He has been teaching Yoga since 2006. He has taught classes in India, Greece, Bali, Turkey and Malaysia. He is so grateful for the chance to share what he has been taught by some incredible teachers in this life. Mike also practices Vipassana meditation and Thai Massage. Follow his blog


21 Responses to “Three Silly Things They Told Me in My First Teacher Training. ~ Michael Graglia”

  1. Well, done, Michael. Thanks for being here.

    Posted to elephant yoga facebook and homepage.

    Bob W. Associate Publisher
    Enjoy Best of elephant journal

  2. danivanimcguire says:

    I couldn't agree with you more! Thanks for this!

  3. cathy says:


  4. Love this article. I’ve been teaching six years, too, and was thinking about some of the very same things the other day when I was preparing my class. I think your suggestions are right on point, and I give a lot of this advice to newer teachers who ask for hints. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Jean Marie says:

    Really appreciate this. Personally I love getting and receiving adjustments but I agree that energy must be respected!

  6. harikirtana says:

    I agree with you on almost every point here, Michael. The only exception is on the issue of who to assist. I agree that there's no way anyone in a 200-Hour TT is going to develop enough expertise to offer appropriate adjustments to every variety of practitioner in their class. And since I find it almost impossible to adjust everyone in my class – in a style of yoga where hands-on adjustments are emphasized – I see no reason to think a less experienced teacher will be able to do so and they certainly shouldn't try. Where our views differ is in who to adjust: I'm inclined to recommend that new teachers offer general, simple (or fundamental) assists to the students in their class that are newest to yoga and therefore need the most help getting into the ballpark of the alignment for a pose. My reasons for this are that this kind of general assist is better for the new teacher than trying a deep assist that they are not really ready to offer, more appreciated by the novice who knows they need the most help (and who will then want to come back to the same new teacher's class, thus building a relationship – see Amy Ippoliti's logic on teaching beginners classes), and let's the new teacher work up toward giving the deep assist to someone with an established practice who wouldn't be as appreciative of an assist being given by someone who isn't really ready to take them deeper into a pose.

    Anyone thinking about taking a Yoga Teacher Training would benefit from reading your post since it offers them food for thought and questions for the studio or teacher(s) whose training they are thinking of taking – thanks.

  7. Ximena says:

    Thank you Mike, fantastico. I find so helpful your advice specially last point.

  8. Amy says:

    Thank you for sharing this! In addition to making excellent points, it highlights to me how much teacher trainings vary. I didn't receive any of the advice you mention in mine. Rather, I'm fairly certain my teachers would have supported your conclusions, particularly with regard to assists.

  9. fab says:

    I agree, Mike! And, I'd take your second point even further. Although I was taught how to adjust students, I now think in terms of assisting…that is, can I support this student in finding greater ease in the posture? Can I suggest another way to find steadiness? And what is the subtlest touch that will do so? Adjust vs. assist can sound like semantics, but I believe that it represents an important mindset shift.

  10. Melody says:

    excellent — yes teaching is an adventure

  11. Christina says:

    Mike, Thank you! SO beautiful and positive. I have been putting off my teacher training because I have a powerful intuition inside of me and I pray for it to flow through me when I teach. I get nervous choosing a teacher training because I'm worried that someone's values will be imposed on me. With time I get more comfortable in myself in order to learn from other but not lose myself. It feels SO good to hear from the other side of teacher training, to hear your intuitions.
    I also found this beautiful because there are a couple blogs on here about 'how my yoga teacher ruined my life, etc.' and they are not constructive. Usually someone ungrounded looking to place blame instead of hearing what it coming up inside of themselves. Yoga is powerful, yoga teachers are still only human. Thank you for this 🙂

  12. Heather says:

    GREAT ARTICLE……with all due respect the one thing that ALL teacher training programs Do Not DO is TEACH ONE HOW TO TEACH.

    And this would be too far reaching as well as far fetched. Teaching is a process, an organic creature….you can learn methods, formats, structures…but you cannot learn to teach….in fact, some yogis say we cannot teach anyone anyway.

    Thanks for writing.

  13. HEATHER says:

    Another point to keep in mind is that a teacher should ALLOW the class to be shaped by the students. Say you have a fixed idea on teaching an arm posture but no one is capable. Then as a teacher it is important to adjust to the students and take a few steps back. There have been some posts on teachers teaching way past the capacity of students.

    There is NO pont in it..and everyone including the teacher has LOST the meaning of YOGA:

  14. Heather says:

    I love this advice…I’ve been teaching for one year and keeping it simple in a flow class is so important…building on the basics. So many new teachers try to compare themselves to other quite experienced teachers. Be yourself and let your own light shine.

  15. jayantiharrison says:

    I so agree on the adjustment part. I have been teaching for about 6 years and I teach flow with alignment. Rather than do alot of adjusting, I try to really hone my verbal cues. I am also a Level 2 Reiki practioner and that piece on energy is so right on! You are the first teacher I have heard say this. It's so interesting to me that alot of the negative yelp comments on yoga teachers are because the teacher did not do enough adjustments.

  16. […] Three Silly Things They Told Me in My First Teacher Training. ~ Michael Graglia […]

  17. Michelle Marchildon says:

    I agree! And YTT's spend soooo much time on the adjusting. If they spent as much time on the "seeing," more students wouldn't need adjusting.

  18. Bijou says:

    So that's why teachers do that! Going around the room and tweeking everyone at once. Always felt a little uncomfortable for me to see my turn coming. I don't mind being touched when I need an assist, but the fake stuff feels fake. I like when they ask in the beginning of class if anyone would like not to be touched to raise their hands. Easy. Usually their is at least one hand.

  19. Florence Navarro says:

    Mike, I have been practicing yoga for several years. I really like reading about your counter advice on 'teaching to the middle'; as a student, I find it so much more helpful and rich when a teacher offers variations.
    I hope many teacher will start applying this. Namaste

  20. Lara Falberg says:

    Wonderful, truthful advice Mike. I couldn't agree with you more. I hope I get to take a class with you in my travels to DC sometime.

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