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.
I must that as a teacher I don’t do much adjusting (which I’ve written about in my blog.) The teacher who certified me was trained both by Jois and at an Iyengar school, but he still was pretty much hands off. In the 8 years I have known him, he probably has adjusted me 5 times.
Obviously, I will adjust if I see something that will compromise someone’s safety or to prevent an injury. Beginners, of course, need that, but I really want my students to “feel” themselves into a pose, eventually. They need to learn to “self-adjust”, which I learned from Patricia Sullivan, a former Iyengar teacher.
I also don’t believe in the “universal principles of alignment” because every BODY is different.
Finally, as a student, unless a teacher knows me, I absolutely do not not allow them to come up to me and start cranking. I’ve seen way too much questionable stuff done to other people.
I was at a workshop with a well-known yoga teacher and his wife walked around adjusting people. Without asking and with no warning, she put her hands on me within 30 seconds of my coming into downward facing dog. let’s just say after my reaction, she left me alone for the remainder of the 3 hour workshop.
Good points. Manual adjustment indeed must be careful, appropriate, and minimalist, and not done by rote. One good teacher in Berkeley gives verbal cues to students, to encourage them to feel and adjust from the inside.
I do see much value in manual adjustment, however, because many people have no body/kinesthetic awareness: they need someone to point things out, a gentle push in the right direction.
Also, regarding “teaching” versus “leading,” I am most concerned not with manual adjustment (or not) but with personal attention to individual students. Is the teacher actually observing the students?
Shifting gears: Re teacher demonstrations, did you see the article “Memories of a Master” (Yoga Journal, November 2009) about Krishnamacharya? The first story about demonstrating asanas for students? As a student, I have always found demos useful because I’m a visual person and learn from example. Thoughts?
i agree that manual adjustments are important, but i think they are best only after developing a relationship with the student. use other types of adjustment (verbal, energetic, etc) first. and definitely ask first. if i were ron, i probably wouldn’t have offered you manuals, either, but i might have to others in the class who i knew well.
Manual adjustment indeed must be careful, appropriate, and minimalist, and not done by rote.
AGREE. WHAT I SEE THOUGH FROM NEWBIE TEACHERS RIGHT OUT OF TRAINING IS THE ATTITUDE “I CAN’T WAIT TO ADJUST PEOPLE!” AND MY QUESTION IS: WHY?
gives verbal cues to students, to encourage them to feel and adjust from the inside.
I DO THE SAME.
many people have no body/kinesthetic awareness: they need someone to point things out, a gentle push in the right direction.
ALSO AGREE. AND THAT’S WHEN I ADJUST.
…personal attention to individual students. Is the teacher actually observing the students?
AGREE AGAIN. MY STUDENTS TELL ME THAT I DON’T EVEN HAVE TO LOOK AT THEM AND I KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING, IT FREAKS THEM OUT ACTUALLY! SO YES, WHILE I DON’T DO MUCH ADJUSTING, I ZERO IN ON EVERYONE.
As a student, I have always found demos useful because I’m a visual person and learn from example.
I DO TOO. HOWEVER, I DETEST THE DEMOS THAT ARE A “SHOW” WHERE PEOPLE ACTUALLY APPLAUD. I LEAVE. TOTALLY NOT INTO THAT. IF I WANT TO SEE A CONTORTIONIST, I WILL GO TO THE CIRCUS.
I agree that, whether verbal or physical, individual corrections are an essential element of good teaching. Also, that if the corrections are manual, the teacher must be both experienced and respectful. The “cranking” kind of adjustments often given by Ashtanga teachers, in the tradition of Pattabhi Jois, are, in my opinion, unnecessary. Specificity of direction is the key to a good adjustments — even a very light touch can be extremely helpful if the intent is clear.
I’ve attended far too many vinyasa classes where the teacher practiced along with the class they were supposedly “teaching.” And once, at a class I took while on vacation in Portland, the teacher said, “Okay, any five backbends of your choice,” and then proceeded to do his OWN backbends. I was appalled.