#1: Be comfortable with silence
A few months ago I was chatting with one of my managers at Equinox. She informed me that, by far, the top complaint by members is that instructors talk too much.
What instructors talk about ranges. Some talk philosophy, others empowerment, then there’s an acute focus on alignment or breathing or both. Whatever your approach, own it, but also, be quiet. Or at least quieter.
What I’ve found is that instructors, of yoga or any other form of movement, feel that if they’re not chatting away, they’re not teaching. Their class becomes filled with unnecessary tics and repetitive instruction.
I attend yoga to find space between my day and the thoughts that dominate it. Classes afford me time to work through things, physical, emotional, or otherwise. When I’m being bombarded every second with words it’s impossible for me to relax into an easeful space.
My style is flow-heavy in the beginning, with the last section dedicated to floor stretching, meditation, and savasana. At the point, I move out of the way as much as possible for everyone in the room to have their own experience. If I were to talk during an entire two-minute stretch I’m robbing everyone of the opportunity to process on their own terms. Instead of giving them a chance to quiet their minds, I’m filling their heads with more chatter to process.
#2: And definitely during Savasana
Which leads to the strangest form of chatter I’ve ever experienced during any yoga class: an instructor talking during savasana. Our brains have two regions dedicated to speech: Wernicke’s area, which helps comprehend language, and Broca’s area, which directs the production of speech.
When you reach the final resting pose, the class is set up for a posture designed to move them completely into their parasympathetic nervous system. This process is greatly hindered if you’re activating Wernicke’s region the entire time. Telling people to relax over and over defeats the purpose of the instruction.
A final note: stop with the short savasana. I’ve taken hour-long classes with a one-minute resting pose. You’re cheating everyone of what might be the most beneficial posture of the entire class. Never less than five minutes. If you have time for more, great. Let them rest.
#3: Let students have their experience
As mentioned, some instructors choose a style of yoga in order to teach self-empowerment. While this can be powerful and motivating, it can also be misleading. When you tell students what to feel, you’re stealing from them an opportunity to feel for themselves.
Offering basic parameters creates a container for everyone to be on the same page. Sharing insights about your own work or experiences can set a tone. Small pieces of well-earned advice is a powerful catalyst for shared experience.
Yet the drilling down into exact sensations becomes more about the instructor than the students. I’ve attended a number of classes where the focus was the teacher working through their own stuff.
Just as on social media we’re constantly letting our inside voice, meaning the voice that really shouldn’t need to leave our head, become our outside voice, slinging grief and anger at people we’ll never even meet, in yoga some instructors process their inside voice externally.
It’s okay to let students know where you’re at. When I was going through cancer I informed everyone why I couldn’t demonstrate or that I wasn’t 100% at the moment. What I certainly tried not to do was let that affect my ability to deliver an experience for them. You can meet your class halfway. You just can’t ask them to take care of you.
Part of the problem is that most hours during a yoga certification course are dedicated to taking classes. Very little to no requirement is left to learn how to hold space. Just as with over-talking, informing everyone of what they should be feeling or thinking is counterproductive.
#4: If you teach it, live it.
Three times in one week I passed by a fellow instructor at two different Equinox locations. She noticed me on none of these occasions as her head was buried in her phone.
Yoga has plenty of well-publicized sexual scandals. Teachers are rightfully blamed for not living their yoga. Yet somehow we’ve silently agreed — well, some have — that it’s okay to teach one thing and not live up to the standards you set in the room when it comes to our technology addiction.
We can spend years debating the “true intention” of yoga or discuss how the practice has morphed and evolved over the millennia. But let’s face it: our society needs to focus. People need space. Yoga offers everyone an opportunity to put away their device and work on presence. When properly implemented, this teaches powerful lessons that resonate throughout the rest of the day and beyond.
If the person asking everyone to practice presence exits the studio staring at their phone, will any student take them seriously? Can you take yourself seriously if this is how you expect to lead?