A few months back, I saw a review of one of of my yoga classes (yes, Class Pass shares the reviews left by users) and it read: “Class was great, but the instructor just walked around the room and didn’t do the practice.” When I read this, I thought, “well, what else would I be doing?” It made me realize that there is more education needed on what to expect from a yoga teacher when practicing yoga.
Would you want your accountant working on their tax return while they calculate yours? Or expect your hair stylist to simultaneously give you a proper cut while they are trimming their own hair? Over the years, I have been to quite a few classes where the instructor leads the class from their mat. I remember the very first public class that I taught. I didn’t dare stray from the safety of my yoga mat, perfectly placed at the front of the room. After class, as I was reflecting on what went well, what could I change, etc., and I realized that I was basically glued to my mat for the entire practice!
noticing much, or any of what was happening in the room. I had to cut myself some slack, as this was my first time teaching a public class, so there were obvious jitters that were present. However, I needed to shake this crutch before it became a habit, and I started to become hyper-aware of my time spent on the mat. A yoga teacher’s purpose is to guide the class and hold the space and energy of the room, not to do their own practice. While my practice inspires my teaching and vice versa, my physical practice doesn’t happen while I am in the seat of the teacher.
Here’s why it is necessary for teachers to “walk the walk” and step beyond the comfort of the mat.
The view from the mat is very limited: Even with gentle, accessible poses like cat and cow, you are looking in front of you, upwards, and then towards your own body. This is a very small range of visibility to be able to see what others are doing. If you are leading a class and only have this limited lens to view movement from, you will miss seeing and connecting with the rest of what is happening. This holds true with simple poses and is even more imperative as students move into more complex poses.
Observation: It is true that in a yoga class, the students tell you what you need to say. Their bodies, and alignment (or lack of) will let you, as a teacher, know what needs to be cued to effectively allow them to get the most from each pose. In order to establish what the majority of the room is doing, a teacher will need to observe the students as they move into, and hold poses. A skillful teacher can assess what the room needs and in turn, adjust their language and/or sequence to effectively teach to the room. Without the awareness of what is going on in the room, this can’t happen. Being glued to the mat doesn’t allow the teacher to look at the bodies in front of them, effectively cue to what they are seeing in the room, or make adjustments (be it verbal or hands-on) to enhance a student’s form.
Give this some thought the next time you step into a class. If your yoga teacher is making their way around the room, it means that they are likely doing their job. People come to public classes because there is someone there to guide them through the sequence, help with their alignment, and create a sense of community. All of these have the potential to be much more effective if the instructor can see the group as a whole and observe what is happening rather than sticking to the safety of the four corners of the mat.