Lately I’ve run across a few yoga teachers who do a yoga practice at the front of the mat, and talk the class through it, a phenomenon I’d only read about until now (damn you Yogaview! You spoiled me!). I want my yoga teachers to be the best, so here’s my take on why teachers must get off their own mat, look at bodies, and focus on the students.
There are many reasons why a yoga teacher should leave his mat at home. One, and it’s a big one, if you’re just doing your own practice at the front of the room and talking the class through your own practice, you’re not really teaching, you’re just shouting out what you’re doing in your own practice. We can certainly practice together, let’s pick a date and set up mats in my living room; but I don’t want to pay you $10 so you can do your practice and just tell me what you’re doing. I’m not really getting any value from you for my fee, other than a sequence, which I can find aplenty on the Internet.
Two, I really do want you to be a good, successful yoga instructor. But if you teach three or four classes a day this way, I don’t care how young and energetic you are, you’re going to burn out your body, get tired, start to cut corners, and hurt yourself. You can’t possibly do three full practices in a day and remain effective. When you get tired up there at the front of the class, you slow down, and I can hear you losing your breath and slowing your pacing. You might even change your sequence to keep from embarrassing yourself by appearing to strain in poses. You might lose track of your sequence because you’re getting tired. That means the whole class slows down with you, changes sequence with you, loses track of the sequence with you.
A corollary to that is, if you don’t feel like practicing come class time, it’s going to show in your instruction too. And every bit of energy, muscle and focus you spend on your own practice is that much less you can devote to your students’. While you’re focusing on your balance in Vrksasana, you’re not focusing on anything else, are you? That’s not fair to your students who should be getting all of your attention and energy during class, and a consistent pace and sequence.
Three: If you only “teach” me what you do in your own practice, you’re never going to teach me something new. The fact is, if you don’t feel like you can do a pose and do it well, you’ll never put it into your sequence. Can’t do Astavakrasana? It will never show up in your class, and my fellow students won’t get to give it a go. Don’t like doing [insert nemesis pose here]? You won’t be inclined to teach it. Certainly, many yoga students are happy to do a bunch of Warrior II’s and Triangles. But I want to be challenged, I want to try a new pose or a new sequence or a new way to get into an old pose every now and then. You don’t need to be able to do a pose perfectly to teach it to a class.