Did you Forget About the Students?

It struck me the other day that there is an awful lot of hand wringing, and even fractious discussion, about what makes a good yoga teacher. And then after that, what makes a GREAT yoga teacher.

Dare I say it, it’s causing some arguments.

It goes without saying that we need to maintain teaching standards and quality control as the yoga industry grows. This is certainly not one of those ‘well as long as you have passion, fantastic intentions and the right mindset you will be an amazing teacher’ kind of articles.

As teacher trainings multiply faster than the Kardashians and every man and his dog becomes a yoga teacher it is crucial that we maintain an objective idea of what ‘good’ looks like.

There are, after all, some fairly basic lists of do’s and don’ts:

DO practice often, teach compassionately, if you use sanskrit know what the words mean, and make sure your sequencing is both appropriate and creative. Being able to tell your right from your left and being a nice person also generally go a long way.

DON’T put your students into savasana for ten minutes so you can check your iPhone. (Yes, I have seen this happen.)

That kind of thing. Simple, hey?

But recently it seems to me that the discussion around what it means to be a good teacher has taken a more extreme turn, above and beyond the standard advice about what to do and what not to do.

For example, a well known yoga school in the US has created an anatomy oriented video content series that goes into quite a boggling amount of detail about individual joints and typical injuries. If you are an A&P geek, it’s total yoga porn.

However, the content is also accompanied by some hard hitting rhetoric about ‘standards’ and insufficient levels of knowledge across the yoga industry (and of course sales messaging around their teacher training programme.)

As I watched a ten minute long tutorial about every aspect of the shoulder joint, I couldn’t help feeling that this may inhibit or terrify most newbie teachers, and how unnecessary it all was.

Listen up: we are yoga teachers. We are not physiotherapists.

At the other end of the spectrum, you will hear the hardcore traditionalists beating their chests about how 21st century yoga has totally lost its way, bears no resemblance to Hindu tradition and how the capitalist pigs of the western world have ruined it for the ‘authentic’ practitioners.

For this tribe, to be a teacher you MUST have studied ashram style, in India, getting up at 5am every day to have a salt water enema before sitting in the Vipassana hall for ten hours straight.

Who’s right? Seriously? From what I can see in the yogablogosphere these debates are creating quite the ‘my standards are higher/better than yours’ argument.

Well guess what. This is not a game of ‘I am yogier than thou’. Is anyone else getting slightly infuriated by the endless criteria upon which members of the yoga community are judging each other?

Let’s assume we can take certain things as a given – that you have completed a foundation level, usually 200 hour training covering all the main syllabus modules. You have passion, the desire to teach and share, and a strong practice of your own.

What else? I hear you asking, what shall I do next?

How should I BE?

Here’s the thing Yogis and Yoginis:

It’s not about you.

Being a great, in fact an extraordinary teacher, is not about you at all. It’s about your students, and how you build and evolve your relationship with them. This means checking your ego at the door. Maybe I’m missing it, but a lot of the debate seems to skirt this topic altogether.

I may be speaking in tongues, but let me throw some ideas at you. Let’s go with …

5 Ways to Focus Harder on your Students (and therefore Be an Awesome Teacher)

1. In the studio, read your class. This is where our much vaunted ‘yogic intuition’ comes into play. Example: you’ve prepared an amazing, dynamic, fiery class plan. But it’s a Monday, it’s raining and your students seem heavy and tired. Time to modify things, or leave that peak sequence out and build in more time for yoga nidra at the end.

2. Ask about injuries – always. I see this being skipped so often these days. It’s one of the first things you can say that tells your students the next hour is about them, (and this is apart from the fact you do actually need to know whether you might need to modify poses or sequences)

3. Don’t be scared of silence. New teachers especially have a habit of going overboard on the instruction and not giving their students the headspace to focus on parts of their (note: their) practice. Be brave, and shut up.

4. Take suggestions. You may not be quite comfortable enough to magic a great class out of a hat when you ask the class what they would like at the start of that class, but find a way of getting to know their pain points and preferred styles. More focus on balances? Sure. Less time in certain poses? Not a problem.

5. Great yoga teachers turn up early, and leave late. They build relationships and often friendships with their students. If your class likes your teaching so much they would be open to spending the weekend on a retreat with you, you won’t know this if you don’t open the dialogue. Your students won’t bite.

So there you have it. A little Yoginomics antidote to the fire currently raging on the internet about what makes the better teacher.

Tell us your thoughts! Who’s your favourite teacher and what makes them so damn great?

About The Author

Jules Barber

Jules Barber is the Founder & Creator of Yoginomics. Having worked in a golden cage in London for 15 years she sold out of her business to become a yoga teacher, corporate wellness specialist and location independent entrepreneur, on a mission to mentor and coach the next generation of amazing yogis - teachers and students alike.

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