Yoga students often have high expectations for their teachers, who may be asked to fulfill the role of unofficial nutritionist, philosopher, personal trainer, spiritual counselor, and physical therapist. It is easy to forget that your actions are as important as the instruction that you are giving.
“To thine own self be true.”
~ William Shakespeare
Not all students approach the practice in the same way, so teachers should likewise express their individuality. Students can spot a phony, so be who you are, and know that that is enough. Students will appreciate a teacher who is honest with them more than a teacher that is sacrificing their integrity to embody an ideal. Practice what you preach, and speak your truth. Whether we are teachers or students, we are all on a journey. When the teacher is able to be authentic, this frees students to be more accepting of them.
As instructors, we encounter spiritual and energetic concerns all the time, but we also attend to the physical practice. A yoga instructor must always practice safely. Although instructors often have advanced practices when compared with students, we must remember to listen to our bodies. Set a good example for students by warming up appropriately before you enter into asanas that require openness. If Svarga Dvijasana (Bird of Paradise) was calling to you when you planned class, but your hamstrings are having none of it, then resist the temptation to power into the asana anyway. Take a modified version and explain to students who are ready to go into the full expression how they should do it. You are modeling that even advanced yogis must set aside their egos and listen to their bodies. In doing this, you will not only prevent injury to yourself, but you will also show students the importance of recognizing one’s limits.
The seeds we plant on the mat bear fruit off the mat. If you as a teacher engage in a practice that is authentic and safe, then it is likely that your students will follow suit.
Leading Yoga Classes By Example
A typical yoga class can include students from a first-time participant to someone who has been practicing yoga for many, many years. The yoga instructor is vital to the success of the class and should also be a participant, showing the class how to carry out the poses by demonstration.
In many classes, the instructor is at the head of the class and will say the pose while demonstrating it so the class can easily follow along. There are some classes where the instructor likes to be in the center of the class with yoga mats lined up toward the instructor and other classes where the instructor places his or her mat in with the students. These last two options are typically for smaller classes and allow the students to feel a bit more connected to the instructor.
The instructor should be a practicing yogi and able to carry out each of the poses that he or she wants the class to perform. Leading a yoga class is best when the instructor is the example. A first-time student may not know what sun salutations consist of or what an eagle pose looks like unless they have someone to show him or her. The instructor can demonstrate the pose while walking through the class to help students with their positions.
Mirrors are excellent assistants to the instructor. After the instructor calls out the pose and demonstrates it, he or she can help a student by facing the mirror and demonstrating the pose together with the student simply following the instructor’s lead. In classes where it may be difficult to see the instructor, watching the instructor from a mirror angle often proves helpful.
If an instructor is injured or physically unable to carry out the poses he or she wants the class to perform, it is best to have a regular attending student that the instructor knows can carry out the poses act as the instructor’s demonstrator for the class. Yoga classes are always best taught when they are led by example, even if the example is a fellow student.
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