Months ago, I received a two-week pass to the biggest yoga studio in my town. It boasts five locations, 30 to 40 teachers, and almost 150 weekly classes in various yoga styles, including Vinyasa Power Flow, Kundalini, and Hatha (a name that I still find misbegotten, as discussed here). Workshops feature celebrity teachers, such as Shiva Rea, Seane Corn, Dharma Mittra, and Mark Whitwell.
When I moved here, I tried a class or two, for personal “research” but I soon got busy with my chosen Iyengar teacher and classes. Now, during the holiday lull, I am taking advantage of my pass (unlimited classes).
In the four days since I activated it, I’ve tried one Kundalini class, one Vinyasa Power Flow, and five Hatha classes—seven classes taught by six different teachers. (Hey, they’re free!) I’d never tried Kundalini before and the repeated dynamic moves (plank to frog-like squat, or urdhva hastasana (well, kind of) to floppy, knees-bent uttanasana), over and over and over, synchronized to music, reminded me of an aerobics class. With zero emphasis on form, I sometimes wondered, “Is this yoga?” but the group energy was contagious and I bought into it (for that hour, anyway) and had fun.
I am most curious about the Hatha classes, which are most prevalent in their schedule. My attitude going in? Skeptical. But, lo and behold, I’ve actually found some decent teachers, even in a four-day sample size. I could ramble on about the positives and negatives of different teachers’ styles, but I’ll focus on a fundamental concept of teaching that’s sometimes missing.
Leading versus teaching
One teacher, a 30-something guy I’ll call Ron, made a good first impression. He’s articulate, precise in both speech and movement, and knowledgeable about body mechanics. His sequences are logical and, although vigorous, his suggested modifications make them doable for a range of levels.
But he gives no adjustments, no corrections, no one-to-one advice during the class. None. The lack of hands-on attention really jumped out at me (especially coming from an Iyengar background). He says all the right things but, if someone is doing the opposite, he doesn’t point it out. He walks around the room and is engaged and approachable, but there is no real interaction.
His classes seem to range from 16 to 24 students, which are manageable numbers. My own teacher’s classes typically exceed 35, and she nevertheless gives a personal “lesson” to every student, every class. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a regular or a first-timer; she notices you and helps you find the asana in your body.
It’s not only Iyengar teachers who give individual attention: In New York, I dropped in on a Jivamukti class numbering 40 to 50, and David Life worked the whole room; I got five adjustments (I counted) and saw him similarly helping all students.
So, while Ron says all the right things, he is only “leading” the class and not really “teaching” students the way I’d define it.
Within my sample group, I did find other teachers who do give manual adjustments and otherwise notice the students before them. They teach more like my favorite teachers do. That, to me, is real teaching.
Image: Salt-shaker yoga, 2003. Here is a salt shaker trying to balance on a grain of salt.