A Wise Teaching Focus: Skillful Teaching

  • Skillful teaching does not sacrifice the basics in favor of complexity or uniqueness.
  • With asana, a skilled teacher acknowledges the need for a balance of effort and ease, strength and openness.
  • A skillful teacher has honed her teaching objective to one thing that she can adequately teach in the time allowed.

Class planning is a personal practice. While there is no one right way there are many considerations, and the primary one is to set a clear objective. (For lots of class planning support, see here.)

A skilled teacher chooses her class objective with an understanding of the students and her own capabilities. She has learned how to distill and present teachings in a way that is engaging and clear. No matter the unique objectives for this class, she does not neglect the ever-present basics such as:

Most Authentic Teachings are Simple

You don’t have to be complicated or difficult to be authentic. Most of the teachings we yearn to share with our students are simple: we want to teach people how to breathe, how to listen to their body, how to be less judgmental, how to release unnecessary tension, and so on. These are our “authentic” teachings and expressing them in simple, clear ways honors our dharma. – Jason Crandall

A Checklist Protects Against Forgetting the Basics

When you are juggling many complicated things in your head – your student’s report, your own observations, research you conducted, your experience with similar things, different yoga models that might be applicable, and so on – it’s easy to forget the basics… Yet in a yoga practice foundational things like breath regulation and internal awareness are essential. In fact, they are MORE IMPORTANT than mastering a difficult pose. These are all the things we know and take for granted, yet they are not obvious or “second nature” to our students. Our students need to be reminded of those things over and over again, until they become an inseparable part of their yoga experience… There is a surprisingly simple solution to make those basics “stick” – checklists. “Checklists seem to provide protection against [forgetting and skipping]. They remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit.” – Olga Kabel

Form vs Function

My early instructors all emphasized lengthening and opening as the ultimate expression of the physical work. The more flexibility and extension I could demonstrate through intricate body shapes, the more respect and praise I received for being a serious practitioner. No one ever talked about function. Regardless of whether the focus was on alignment or sequence, it was always about the form. What I always thought of as “opening” was really just me pulling my body apart. As the years went on, all that lengthening and opening resulted in a range of chronic pains and degenerative issues. I was fortunate to find my way to different approaches that de-emphasized the physical work as a goal, focusing more on utilizing simple forms for nurturing and healing. – J. Brown

Embrace Repetition

Most teachers are fearful of sounding like a broken record. Of course, they are—who wouldn’t be? But…in order to teach a subject, you need to repeat, repeat, repeat. And, repeat. Imagine you are teaching someone a new language—or, how to do math or play an instrument. Would you be concerned about repetition then? By embracing repetition, you are embracing education.– Jason Crandall

See Also