Accessibility, Clarity, Authenticity: Skillful Teaching

  • A skilled teacher invites challenge while making teachings accessible.
  • Good teachers mindfully choose their words for clarity and effectiveness.
  • Knowing your asana sequence in your body before teaching will help you to teach it more effectively.
  • An excellent teacher allows pauses in teaching for students to process and go inward, and she watches to see if the teaching has been assimilated before giving another instruction.
  • Teachers reach their potential by uncovering their authentic voice.

Harder Poses are Not Better than Simple Poses

Pressing into handstand, doing complicated arm-balances, and experimenting with deep backbends make for good social media clips. They are striking, inspiring poses that speak to our aspirations… That said, we have to remember that these poses are not terribly realistic for the vast majority of students… Let’s not get carried away—or become convinced that harder poses provide more benefits than simple poses. Feel free to challenge your students, but make sure that your classes are chock full of postures that your students can do with precision and care. – Jason Crandall

Functional Body Health Does Not Require Pushing the Limits in Asana

The conventional attitude is that in order to progress in practice, it is necessary to take your body past your perceived physical edge… The practice is a way to challenge ourselves to do more, to reach fuller potential… If you’re going to run marathons or perform gymnastic feats then some amount of no pain no gain is likely going to be required to accomplish that task. But if what we are after is functional body health, where our bodies can do what we need them to do in our lives with as little pain as possible, then a see-how-far-we-can-push the limits mentality is… counterproductive… The ultimate effect of both the “hard work” mindset and ever-challenging forms is the lasting impression of things never being enough and there always being more to do… I am not suggesting that yoga practice always feels like a bubble bath. In the course of addressing our bodies and minds, all sorts of deep and inner challenges are presented. But meeting the challenges that arise naturally in yoga practice is not the same thing as imposing extraneous physical challenges on students because it is thought to be impressive or inspirational. – J. Brown

Evoking the Best and Defining Challenge

How we define the word challenge is extremely important. Taking one breath with total awareness is a challenge for any yoga student. Being able to disconnect from the busy-ness of the mind and deeply enter the state of Savasana—that’s a challenge for many people too. So what does challenge mean? Challenging doesn’t mean pushing. It means inviting the student to explore their own freedom and their own growth in their own time and in their own way. The other thing I like to say is that I very much want to challenge people’s thinking about who they think they are— their assumptions about themselves and others. Strange as it sounds, the practice of yoga is about being willing to be slightly uncomfortable. I mean, the first Dog pose is uncomfortable for most people. It doesn’t mean that we want to push the pose or hold it for too long, but I’m not sure we can grow and be comfortable at the same time. The word challenge is really quite rich for exploration. – Judith Hanson Lasater

Pause & See If the Teaching Was Assimilated

Rodney Yee’s advice has stuck with me for many years and through all that time has always been right on. He said, “One thing. Just say one thing.” Teachers tend to give too many instructions. Learn not to talk just to fill space but to say just one thing and then let the yoga conversation unfold. Watch the students to see if they understood and assimilated that instruction before going on to the next thing is the best teaching advice I ever got. – Cyndi Lee

Be Clear & Precise

Cueing yoga postures can be tricky because asana is complex and every practitioner (and pose) is different. Over time, teachers begin to use convenient shorthand. While the shorthand cue can be helpful, it might not be really accurate. For example, “Place two fists between your feet to find your hip’s distance.” Two fists is not the same as hip distance, but the cue gets the student into the vicinity. The problem arises when these cues become canonized as facts, or “yoga rules”—when they are actually just helpful guides. – Rachel Scott

See much more detail on this topic in Alignment Principles.

Engaging Teachings

Once you stand at the front of a yoga class, all eyes will be on you. You’re in charge of the flow of energy within the class. You need to engage your students—not with your ability to contort yourself into a “human pretzel” but with your words and expertise. It is this ability that will transform your class into the one that everyone talks about… What’s important, and vital to your success as a teacher, is that you keep your ego out of the class and remain 100% focused on your students… You are there to direct, guide, instruct and adjust your students; only sometimes is it actually your duty to demonstrate a pose. Make sure you’re exercising the full extent of your yoga knowledge and training in your classes. – yoginomics, 5 Things to Remember When Your Students are Better at Yoga Than You

It’s Okay to Do What You’re Doing

The teacher… helped her to find a personalized variation… With this gesture, the teacher expressed “Yes, it’s okay to do what you’re doing, but to also maybe try this, and try that.” The teacher not only met the student where she was, but slipped into her yoga-shoes, demonstrating that “Yes, we’re in this together.” And it brought the student right back to everyone else’s level and intensity with a customized variation. My takeaway? Be present; teach to what and who’s in front of you. – Coral Lee

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Quiet

Allow people to have some space and quiet during the practice. Do not be afraid to be quiet and step back once in a while. – Anne McCarthy