Telling yoga sounds like this: “Chaturanga, Up Dog, Down Dog, Ujaii…” and it ain’t necessarily a bad thing. Telling yoga is almost necessary for a certain purpose. It’s short-hand. It’s the “U” in a text message “Where u?” It allows for a faster pace, builds the power inherent in fast movements (or gets your gaze off your phone faster), and sustains the learned student.
Teaching yoga sounds like this (the same sequence as above): “Press forward to your toes and through the crown of your head. Lowering with a pause when your shoulders are at or above elbow height. Inhale and draw your sternum in front of your arms, legs straight, push the ground away. Lead from the navel, hips move high to the sky. Notice your breath. Settle your mind into the moment.”
Neither are wrong. Both are medicine.
The theory behind my explanatory tendencies when teaching (I mostly “teach” vs “tell”) is multifold. If a student is ready to hear instruction, s/he’ll be safer, stronger, more present (less anticipatory of what’s next) and more absorbed. As a teacher, articulating the mechanics of poses (or yoga philosophy in meaningful terms) forces you to see the room, to consider what would best serve your students’ mind-body relationship. As a student, it syncs the vibrations reaching our eardrums with the longest neurons in your body.
I also teach not tell (mostly) because learning a hundred subtle actions in each pose created profound shifts and breakthroughs in my posture (on and off the mat), my poses, my relationship with my body and identity.
That is what lights me up. That is what I want to share.
Beginning students need to be taught yoga.
Fast-paced, sweaty students who have been going to group classes for years need to be taught yoga.
Teachers need to know how to teach yoga (if not for your sweat-inducing public classes, for your private students).
We are all beginners at some point. Say your first experience in a yoga practice was as a 40-year old, stiff from sitting at a desk, worn out from juggling work and raising children, returning to self-care / movement after the holidays, or recovering from an injury. My guess is that would be much different than my first yoga experience as a kindergartener in my grandmother’s after-school sessions, and as someone who started teaching yoga at age 22. Maybe you’d like some guidance; Maybe you don’t know what “Urdvha Dhanurasana” is. I won’t assume.
Maybe you attend a class where the teacher only “tells” yoga, you feel amazing and return again and again. This storyline can happen: my guess is it less common.
For the power of yoga to reach more individuals, we must, somewhere along the lines, take the time to welcome all individuals to the practice.
Regardless of experience level, humans learn in different ways. Visual, verbal and kinesthetic cues are, in my mind, all fundamental teaching elements mandatory for public yoga classes.
There also exists a huge swath who already love yoga, but are excluded from the club when they hear a teacher “tell”: “If you have a headstand practice, take headstand”. Or “Feel free to take bakasana [crow pose] then jump back to chaturanga”.
*sigh*. if only it were so simple.
Telling vs. Teaching yoga is part of the inspiration behind my latest workshop series. “Yoga 108: Advance Your Practice” breaks down Chaturanga, Headstand, Bakasana, Forearm Balance, and includes a special workshop called “Juice the Flow“, about the poses between the poses, the places where you get strong and mindful even in a fast-sweaty-powered up practice.
Please join me Tuesdays in July (1st to 29th) for one or all of these workshops where I will teach the HECK out of some yoga.
Well, hun, what’s the point anyway? My friend Naomi puts it beautifully in her latest newsletter: “We get on our mats to work our bodies, but in the process we work our minds and our hearts, too. There is no difference between doing a solid, strong downdog and finding your roots in a time of chaos or uncertainty.“
Love it. Learn it.
Meet me on the mat.