As many of you know, I am a full-time yoga instructor in New York City. I was certified to teach yoga in San Diego. I’ve learned so much over the years from not only teaching, but watching bodies move in class. Currently, there are two teacher’s trainings going on at two different studios I teach at in NYC, and I’ve had the opportunity to chat yoga and answers some questions from these new teachers.
Here are a few things you might notice in class:
Adjustments. There are a few different types of yoga adjustments in class. Physical adjustments where a teacher will move your body (while supporting you) to get you into alignment. Verbal adjustments are teaching cues to get you to move a certain way. Energetic adjustments are more of a light touch, and not to fix anything, but to get you to soften or relax more into a pose. I studied with an Iyengar teacher while I was doing my first training and her rule of thumb was, she would not touch you the first time you came to class. I stick to this mostly. It’s important to see range of motion and limitations before you try to move someone. I tend to give verbal adjustments in class. If one person needs the verbal cue, chances are, it can benefit others. Verbal adjustments also empower the student to make changes in their own body. Physical adjustments feel great (and I admit I love them in class), but there needs to be a level of trust/openness from teacher and student. I’ve walked over to students and put my hand on their back and their body jumps. This tells me to walk away. When your body freezes up, you are much more likely to get injured in that moment. Your brain is telling your body to freeze, and if the teacher is forceful with the adjustment, you could get seriously hurt. When I give adjustments, I stop and mirror the breathing of the student. We sync up so the exhale is used for expansion. I also adjust a student’s shirt before I touch them. This lets them know that I am there so I don’t startle them. The more trainings that I’ve done over the years, the more I’ve learned that there is not just one way in yoga. Poses will look different in different bodies. That doesn’t make them wrong, that doesn’t mean I need to fix it. Some students want to be “fixed” in every posture. But there is something to be said for letting people have their experience. I’ve been in classes where getting adjusted made me feel bad about my practice. I’ve had students apologize because I gave them adjustments, that’s not what it’s about. So for the most part, expect verbal cues in class and some energetic adjustments after I have had you in class for a bit.
Music. I love music. Most types of music. But… I don’t love traditional yoga music. That is my personal preference. I enjoy it at the end of class (when I’m resting in savasana) and at the beginning to get centered and focus on my breath. Teachers have the liberty to play the music they want to play in class. I play music from different genres and I love rock and roll. As the class builds, the tempo of the music builds as well. When we are done with the flow section of class, music slows back down and transitions to instrumental at the end. My music selection is not going to be for every student. If they come from a more traditional style of yoga or just want to hear something different, my class might not be right for them. I tend to teach a lot of athletes and also in corporate settings. I want students to know that there are different types of yoga classes. They don’t all need to be so serious, and mine is not. I like playing music that I like to move to - syncing movement, breath, and music as we flow together.
Pace. I teach my classes a bit faster than most classes and this is by design. I’ve found in my practice, that my mind wanders when I’m hanging out in a pose. There is benefit to staying in certain poses longer, but I typically don’t leave students in any one pose for an extended time. I like to think of my classes as more of a moving meditation. Because of the pace and the way class is sequenced, you don’t have a lot of time to think about other things. So when you leave class, you feel rested and refreshed. Although the pace is quicker, the transitions are always safe and make sense. If you only have a breath to get somewhere, it’s not going to be to a pose that doesn’t fit. I always practice the flow before I teach it to make sure it is appropriate for all levels.
Sequencing. I teach a different class sequence every single day. The structure of my classes are the same (slow warm up, flow, static, reclined, savasana), but I always teach a different class. Some days I teach four classes, and I make sure to do different things in each class (some students take more than one class a day with me). It’s important to me to give students something different each class. I prefer not to teach to a “peak pose.” Instead, I weave peak poses throughout class. Warm up is slow and always hits back, chest, shoulders, hips, hamstrings, and wrists - so the body is ready for most poses. For the main flow of class, I put together 17-22 poses. I teach it one time slow (to get the big openings) and then three times fast (one breath per movement) on each side. This helps to build body heat and the body is prepared for more advanced postures or can settle easier into static supported stretches.
There are so many different and great ways to teach a yoga class. These are just a few things that I’ve picked up over the years. Always listen to your body and if it doesn’t work for you - don’t do it.