In any yoga teacher training there are basic teaching tools that are introduced and extensively practiced: instruction, demonstration, observation, adjustment and assisting. Along with those, usage of language and voice goes hand in hand once we dwell in the instruction part of teaching yoga as well.
Why are those principle tools fundamental?
Each of those tools addresses more or less effectively a student’s learning style. Basically, this means that each person learns best through techniques that favors one mean of communication or (most frequently!) a combination of those means.
There are mostly 3 styles of learning that yoga teachers should be acquainted to once they are teaching a yoga practice:
- Visual Learner: learns best through visual elements. They will benefit best from the teacher’s demonstration
- Auditory Learner: learns best through audio elements. They will benefit best from the teacher’s instruction
- Kinesthetic Learner: learns best through touch and doing. They will benefit best from being physically adjusted and assisted in/out of a pose.
It is a little difficult to spot a student’s learning style once we are dealing with a group (or in a first encounter!). However, if you are teaching a small group for a little over a couple of classes you can learn to spot them and adjust to their needs.
Here are some tips for you to spot a visual learner:
- They often look around to see what everyone else is doing (yes, even in a yoga class!)
- Outside noises may disrupt they attention more easily (they have difficulty filtering sounds)
- They may interrupt you in a class (especially in a talk)
- They like to be in front of the class since they need visual cues to learn best!
- They are fast thinkers. However, they usually think in pictures. So if you are only instructing without demonstrating they might take a while translating what you are saying into images. Also, in those situations they can easily get lost.
Demonstration is the key. Here are some tips about it:
- Make sure they can see you (all of you!)
- Do it step-by-step highlighting with gestures the key actions that are requested.
- If you have a tricky key-action (or if you just feel it’s needed) demonstrate from different angles.
- Mirror your students and try to maintain eye contact for as long as possible (actually, eye-contact is important to any student independent of their predominant!)
Demonstration is fundamental, however, don’t do it if you are not warmed up simply because you can get hurt. Don’t be attached to the yoga mat even though you need do demonstrate also: balance it out! We all need to go around to assist, adjust and for having a better perspective of the group in order to modify our strategies in time!
You can spot those who:
- In comparison to others, they will not look at you that often (if your instruction is clear!)
- They have no problem or they might be the first ones to close their eyes (at least if the posture is not demanding)
- They tend to respond strongly to music even emotionally. So, if you use music in your class you can feel their reactions.
- They tend to speak slowly and be natural listeners in a talk. So check how your students relate before or after a class or when you talk to them.
- They absorb information best through the ears but they usually process it by talking. So, they might appear to enjoy talking (to themselves and to others!) and will probably take the chance to explain to their friends concepts and ideas about yoga (or anything else…)
The language we use, the way we use our voice and instruction itself are the most important aspects to develop:
- Speak as slowly as possible but also vary the rhythm to keep students attentive.
- Be sure they can hear you (volume!) and take care of your diction.
- Use simple, concise and clear phrases. Also, be specific in your instructions!
- Break down the instruction in parts and give dramatic emphasis to the most important parts of it (usually, how to prevent injuries from a physical perspective).
- Verbally cue adjustments without pointing out who’s doing it wrong or right. Keep your instruction in what students should do instead of what they should not do (they might get confused!)
- Avoid unnecessary words or phrases like “We are gonna …” and don’t overuse technical terms
- Keep a friendly and comfortable tone of voice
Instructing is a basic tool in teaching yoga practice, but silence must have its room in a yoga class even if all of your students were auditory learners! Instruct as best as you can, use appropriate language but always let students experience silence to go within.
Those learn best by doing and touch, so you can spot them better if:
- They are usually the first ones to experiment whatever you are proposing simply because they enjoy experiencing.
- They are generally very coordinated and have a quite good sense of the body in space (and timing!). So, the yoga body practice might appear more “natural” to them.
- They might ask you directly to adjust them since they enjoy hands-on approach!
- They tend to have great physical memory. Once you’ve adjusted them and they do experience the posture they will remember the “feeling of the alignment” quite easily.
- They tend to have difficulty sitting for long. They might have more difficulty in practicing concentration/meditation practices. In other words, they tend to start moving their body sooner than others.
- They usually suffer from short attention spans so if you spend time talking in the beginning or the end of the class you might realize that they have lost their interest more easily (and are probably moving their bodies in some way!). That also means that if they are not well guided in a class they might get distracted more easily.
Since they learn better through hands-on techniques assisting and adjusting will be more effective. In this article, we are differentiating assisting from adjustment though they are often interpreted as the same. In any case, here the term assist refers to the techniques used to help students to get into our out of a pose with the help of touching (generally, it’s not a intense hands-on approach). Adjustment in this context also refers to a hands-on approach but one that is used when the student is in the posture (or breathing practice) itself. Those, generally requires more physical contact or intensity.Here are the tips to best reach kinesthetic learners:
- Assist them physically in or out of the pose whenever they seem not to get an instruction or pick up on a demonstration.
- Choose hands-on adjustment for correcting alignment
- Choose hands-on adjustment to bring them into a deeper version of the pose!
- Adjust or assist whenever you foresee a potential injury (that is a must anyway!)
- Do not startle the student. Since the kinesthetic learner might be very into their body-experience while practicing (but at the same time have shot attention spans!) be sure they know you are approaching.
Give students a chance to physically express what you are instructing before approaching them. Adjusting or assisting a student physically is anyway a delicate matter. If you do decide to approach them be sure you are familiar to their injuries before doing so and obviously, know intimately the pose and the adjustment itself. Another important topic here is whether they welcome the teacher’s touch or not: do not be afraid to ask their permission! Refrain from adjusting if they are new to your class or to yoga practice. It’s better not to adjust beginners simply because their bodies are still adapting to the practice and can change quite bit in the first month or so.
The principle of observation is maybe the most fundamental of all since we need to be at service as yoga teachers. It’s important to remember that our class is definitely not our self-practice: we are there for others. We are only able to spot learning-styles and read our students both physically and emotionally if we are available, attentive and not focused on our performance, thoughts and fears of being judged. Let’s keep practicing to be at service and let our eyes, ears and hearts wide open.