Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Communication Skills for Yoga Teachers

500 hour yoga teacher training intensive course
By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

When Yoga teachers gather in a workshop to hear a lecture about communication - what is the first topic that comes to mind? Is it cueing skills, voice inflection, or when to ask a student for permission to assist? Those are important issues for anyone who teaches Yoga, but let’s take a look at many more areas that could use some work.

Communication is a two way street. How can we exchange ideas if students are made to feel “stupid” for asking questions? Granted, Yoga classes cannot operate like an open forum, if you have a lesson plan in mind, but a student who is experiencing pain should not have to feel bad for asking about it. Nor should he or she have to wait until the end of class to ask an impatient teacher about his or her pain.

Listen Empathically: When a student asks a Yoga-related question during class time, the Yoga instructor present, should listen to all of the details. There are times when a Yoga student asks questions, which are on the mind of many more classmates.

For some students, it takes a lot of courage to ask a question in a group setting. Some students ponder questions for days before asking them. Their heart rate may rise because it took courage to ask the question.

With all this said, listening is a primary communication skill. As a Yoga teacher, you are respected by your students, so do not violate a trust by bolstering your ego. The key is to listen intently, because you may have questions of your own, which will result in a deeper answer.

Who becomes a Yoga student’s best teacher during Hatha Yoga practice? His or her body, and mind, must eventually be the best Yoga teacher. If not, we have failed to give our students the gift of self-realization. To go further: Students must learn to think for themselves. If they are dependent on a Yoga teacher, all the time, then our teaching method is flawed.

Why do I say this? If a student is not present for Yoga practice, we must make him or her gently aware of it. There is no need to make students dependent on us. Good students will always return to Yoga class.

Yoga must still be practiced after our students have rolled up their mats. Breathing, walking, talking, eating, posturing, and acting with mindfulness, is the sign of a Yoga practitioner. All of the amazing physical feats are nice, but any flexible Pilates student, dancer, gymnast, or martial artist, could do the same.

Who are some of the best teachers a Yoga instructor could have? The answer should not surprise you, but it is our students who create the best Yoga teacher from within us. Consider this: Random questions develop complete knowledge of any given subject.

Yoga students are full of questions, so let them ask, and you will find. Yoga students often have a “fresh view” of Yoga. We cannot easily absorb new ideas with a preconceived perspective of a given subject. Yoga students have no set of preconceived notions about Yoga

Socrates once said, “I know nothing, except the fact of my ignorance.” If he could be such a humble teacher about the subject of life, who are we to feel so comfortable with our knowledge on the subject of Yoga? Allow Yoga-related questions during class time, and everyone will be richer for the experience.

It is true that some Yoga teachers have found their niche by suppressing student thought, but this is not Yoga, and it is all about control. The sad fact is - Yoga students, who seek out abusive teacher / student relationships are magnetized to dogmatic personalities and have voluntarily chosen to be in the relationship.

These same primal behavior patterns run parallel to their relationships at home, in work, and in their social lives. This is unfortunate, but all of us have a place in this life, and some people crave the negative attention of an “alpha personality.” If you observe a wolf pack, you can see much similar behavior.

Getting back to communication skills - Yoga teachers, who masterfully explain concepts through cueing, voice inflection, demonstration, and assisting, have taken the time to practice the art of communication. Seasoned Yoga instructors are not good at what they do by accident. Time spent in front of a crowd, or a mirror, causes us to look within and communicate effectively.

Knowing the audience is a valuable skill every Yoga teacher should take the time to learn. What are the interests of your Yoga students? What parts of the lesson plan raise their level of motivation? Do you feel a stir of excitement or anticipation at certain points in your Yoga class? Even if none of them says a word, you can still read “body language.”

When students feel the beneficial aspects of your Yoga class, it is “written all over their faces.” Develop your intuition, but do not drive yourself crazy. If you are still not sure what motivates your students, it is time to ask them some tactful questions.

A sample question, about one subject, might be: “Do you see the benefit of practicing Revolved Triangle now?” If they do not give you an answer, you can list the skeletal benefits to the hips, spine, shoulders, and legs. You can list the muscles, which are strengthened and stretched.

You could also mention the particular internal organs, which are massaged and cleansed. Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana), like many Asanas, has many physical benefits, but it develops mental strength, as well. The student / teacher relationship is a “think tank.” Allow your students to participate completely, and the proficiency level of your entire school will be raised.

Ponder these words of Jesus: “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” The answers to all of our questions are right in front of us, if we remember this.

© Copyright 2007 – Paul Jerard / Aura Publications

If you are a teacher, studio manager, blogger, e-zine, or website publisher, and are in need of quality content, please feel free to use my blog entries (articles) – Please be sure to reprint each article, as is, including the copyright above. Namaste, Paul

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