Part 3 of a three-part series
I have my own take on demos. But what about others? I was especially curious about students’ preferences—namely, those who aren’t teachers. So, I surveyed 20 or 25 of my own students. They vary in age, gender, and experience.
I included those who are new to yoga, but targeted longtime practitioners who have studied with various Iyengar yoga teachers. I wanted their comments to reflect the Iyengar yoga demo method in general, not only my interpretation of it.
Among Iyengar yoga teachers, my teaching style would probably fall on the dynamic side, with fewer than average “come and watch” demos—and more than average corrections, whether by touch or by voice. But everything is relative, as they say. Newcomers to Iyengar yoga might find my teaching to be detailed, methodical, and demo oriented—while longtimers might find it eclectic.
Overall, my survey respondents gave demos a big thumbs-up. Split votes on pace; half prefer faster, dynamic pace, half prefer slower, step-by-step pace. Read selected comments in their own words, lightly copyedited:
“I personally find demos to be very helpful. There’s always some new bit of information that I either didn’t know or forgot about. Also, with so many ways to go about a pose, it’s good to see alternate options. I’m fairly good at following auditory cues, but sometimes miss a cue or don’t quite understand—and visual reinforcement is a bonus. I tend to prefer slower, step-by-step paced classes. I find it frustrating when I’m on the cusp of settling into a pose, only to move on to the next pose.”
—Anne, 56, 22yr Iyengar practice interspersed with various other types of yoga
“Even relatively simple poses can be done improperly, so I like to see a ‘refresher’ on little things that I might do wrong. To me, it’s more important to do poses properly than to be in a ‘flow.’ The only exception might be something that we’ve done countless times.”
—Jay, male, 70, about 5 years of yoga practice
“I would prefer to err on the side of more demos, even for standard poses. There is always something more to discover about each pose, and it’s important to approach class with a learner mindset. Otherwise, I could just put on a video and go through the motions. I come to class to study and to learn—to improve my overall practice—so I appreciate demos.
“Demos and physical correction are critical to helping me get to the essence of poses. They are the reason why our classes have value.”
—NY, 40s, 10+ years of Iyengar yoga classes
“I don’t really like the idea of demos for every pose, or demos as a default, but I’ve been practicing a long time. I think they disrupt the flow, but I appreciate the need if the class is very mixed level or if there are a lot of new folks.”
—LL, female, early 60s, 25 years of yoga practice, Iyengar yoga for past 20 years
“Since my reason for attending your class is not cardiovascular workout, I prefer a slower pace with emphasis to doing things right. Demos are essential for unfamiliar poses, but too many demos can be distracting. I actually find your ‘don’t do’ or ‘common mistake’ demos even more useful because, in my mind, I always think I’m doing exactly what you taught.”
—WC, 50s, 18 years of yoga practice, Iyengar yoga for past 12 years
“I love demos and never consider them a waste of my time, no matter how basic. They tell me what props to use, how to position them how to customize them. I watch where your eyes should be looking; what to do with shoulders, hands, legs, knees, pelvis. How you get into a pose and how you get out of a pose. If you watch a demo very carefully you know exactly what you need and how [a pose] should be done. It makes the class much more efficient.”
—Female, 72, yoga practice for 23 years, Iyengar yoga for past 13 years
“Looking at the way you demonstrate a pose helps a lot in understanding the pose. I especially like how you teach an action by using your hands to show where it occurs and which muscles are recruited.
“Yoga poses are complex and, if I don’t understand, then I will not be in the actual pose. So, I like step-by-step instruction just as you do with frequent ‘come and watch’ demos.”
— H, age 26, 3 years of yoga experience, currently student of Iyengar yoga
“Generally speaking, seeing someone demonstrate an unfamiliar pose is helpful. That said, I prefer not to have too many interruptions during a class. Years ago, I had an Iyengar teacher who constantly used students to demonstrate poses. It got to be a bit much because we spent less time practicing—and more time looking, talking, and analyzing, which I wasn’t keen on.
“Another teacher a long time ago was a complete Gumby character, so flexible, and she frequently demonstrated poses. Most of us would groan a bit, quietly, and laugh that there was NO way we would ever approach that kind of flexibility. Her uber flexibility set an impossible standard, as if Iyengar yoga requires super flexibility—and that misses the whole point.”
—Susan, age 63, started attending Iyengar classes around 1987
“I LOVE and NEED teacher demos. [W]atching a teacher’s demo HELPS. Doesn’t matter if I’ve done the pose before.
“Class pace is best for me when a teacher goes slower, step-by-step, with “come-and-watch” demos, showing many adaptations and substitutions and also entrance into and exit out of the pose. Language and visuals must meet, and then the student brain accepts and reacts with confidence. Sometimes it takes different versions of the message to make the brain understand.”
—Faye, practicing Iyengar yoga since late ’80s
“I like and appreciate a limited number of demonstrations. I can learn from seeing other students doing poses, especially if they range across different skill levels. And seeing the instructor demonstrate shows me what to work toward.”
—Vinit, 74, student of Iyengar yoga for about 30 years
“I find some demos helpful, but definitely more so in person than in Zoom classes. Demos are valuable for unfamiliar poses because it can be hard to follow only [verbal] descriptions if you haven’t seen or done them before. In person, demos are great for getting a sense of the core elements of the pose, including variants with props—then it’s easier to focus on good form.
“Regarding slower versus more dynamic, I like how you change things up, with some classes feeling a bit faster and some a bit slower.”
—Claudia, 51, 3 years of Iyengar yoga practice
“The demos are helpful. Especially when you model them because I get to see what the pose should look like :). I’ve always appreciated both the demos and the very specific descriptions of what to do—and what not to do.
“I really enjoy the variety of classes. Sometimes connecting poses in a flow is great; sometimes paying close attention to details and zeroing in on particular aspects of a pose is great.”
—Jeff, 67, 10 years of Iyengar yoga practice
“I do prefer demos, particularly for poses that are less familiar. Seeing a pose is very helpful for a beginner and visual learner like me. Also very helpful in your classes are your verbal instructions, helpful tips, and physical adjustments. For class pace, I prefer a more dynamic one with demos when necessary, which I believe is the pace you currently use. Very helpful and enjoyable.”
—T Hasan, 23, beginner yoga student
“I really like seeing a demo. There is much to consider—and seeing another person DO the pose helps pull it together for me. Sometimes, I like seeing another student used as pose-doer. Then I am watching an ‘amateur’ like me attempting it, not a seasoned Iyengar teacher who is very used to it!
“That said, I prefer a dynamic pace. Sometimes, with in-person yoga, I get tired of tromping over for another group watching experience! So, I favour demos when necessary (to show a new approach or a new pose), but short and not one after another. Otherwise the process can make class feel disjointed.
“At non-Iyengar classes, I am sometimes wide-eyed at the lack of visual guidance through demo-ing. Iyengar yoga rules!”
—AW, age 66, 27 years of Iyengar yoga studies
“Demos almost always help. If a pose is new, it’s really important. But, even for a pose I know well, there are always new things I can learn. Sometimes a small change in the description—usually an emphasis on something specific to watch for—can correct a bad habit that has quietly developed or remind me of something I’ve forgotten. A demo is not an interruption. It’s an integral part of a class for me—and one reason why I like Iyengar yoga.
“I like a slower, step-by-step pace. When flows are included, they bring a dynamic aspect that’s good for variety, but my preference is for discussion and demonstration, which entail a slower pace.”
—Todd, 4 years of Iyengar yoga practice
“You are my first Iyengar teacher, and I am really enjoying this type of yoga practice. I like the attention to detail that is given to each pose and the different options provided for students who are less experienced or less flexible.
“I find in-class demos very helpful, especially when the poses are new to me. The pace of your classes is great because I prefer a steady pace with demos shown when necessary. I always feel as if the time goes by quickly. :)”
—JN, 40s, various types of yoga for the last 7 years
“I like and benefit from in-class demos. In years of taking classes, not once did I think that there were too many demos. I would rather see too many demos than too few. I appreciate detailed explanation accompanied by tangible visuals of the body in a particular pose. This is invaluable for me when I go back to my mat and try to recreate the pose as best as I can.
“I find demos super helpful (even necessary for me) when the pose is unfamiliar or rarely done. But, even for familiar poses, I still like demos because I gain more info about the pose—a nuanced adjustment, going deeper, an instruction that helps with a sore spot in my body, etc.”
—Marie, started practicing Iyengar yoga over 20 years ago while in her late 30s
“I learn from demos and appreciate the opportunity to see an accurate pose in action by the teacher! I appreciate it more when the pose is unfamiliar or challenging. I’m happy with ‘come and watch’ sequencing.”
—IK, 36 years old, 10 years of Iyengar yoga practice
“I’m a big fan of in-class demos. It really helps to have the visual, as well as the talking through what’s involved, when trying to perform a pose myself. This holds true for both virtual and in-person classes, but especially for virtual.”
—Female, late 60s, enthusiastic Iyengar practitioner with glitchy knees
“For new poses, I like to have demos. For familiar poses, if [the teacher sees] students doing their own thing, a refresher demo would be appropriate. There is never a bad time for a demo/review to correct us.
“I like ‘step by step’ for part of the class, but I want another part to be dynamic flow. I personally like to be ‘pushed.'”
—Mature female, 25 years of Iyengar yoga classes from multiple teachers
Images: I never tire of watching cats. Their physicality is compelling, their composure even more so. They know exactly what they like and what they dislike. They know when to leap, when to let go. Watching a cat in repose is an impeccable demonstration of restorative yoga.
Pictured in this series are Shey and Tai. Born in 2001, they were brothers and lifelong companions who lived for more than 16 years with my yoga colleague Valerie Speidel, Studio-be. I was delighted to find them together at home in Kitsilano, Vancouver, in May 2014.
Hi Luci: I remember taking my son to martial arts when he was a kid. The instructor would lead them in kata, form practice drills, which is sort of like asana flow. She would have them perform kata slowly, then quickly, then at normal pace. She explained that this would help them improve both alignment and dynamic flow. It would also help them instantly to recall proper technique. Made sense to me. And I guess it still makes sense because I like to experience various types of pace.
Love that you shared survey respondents’ answers. These truly reflect how students learn and benefit from yoga versus having an instructor (perhaps flexible in body but inflexible in mind) instructor “perform” a class rather than “teach” a class. We’ve all been to a class like that and inwardly groaned. Aloha.
Neat parallel between yoga and martial arts. I’m thinking that a solid practitioner must be prepared for anything, unfazed by different circumstances. If one truly knows the asana or kata, it should be doable fast, slow, with one prop set-up versus another. These are external circumstances that should not faze us. Mahalo for your always-thoughtful comments, Keith.