On Teaching

I really enjoy watching my kids at gymnastics, and observing the happenings in the gym. One thing I appreciate is that in this environment, the objectives are clear: it's the coach's job to teach the students how to do gymnastics. There are certain drills and skills in the curriculum, and the expectation is evident for both teacher and student regarding progress.

In my job as a yoga teacher, I consider my role also pretty clear: I teach people how to do yoga. But it does not seem that the expectations are clear across the board. For example, students don't always come to yoga class to learn how to do yoga. Sometimes they come for a workout. Sometimes they come for emotional healing. Sometimes they come for that weird back pain they can't figure out, or because their doctor recommended it. I hear from many that they come for community. Sometimes they come for a playlist and a foot massage.

Also, the expectations from studio to studio vary. Some studios make sure their yoga teachers use physical touch, some prohibit it. Some encourage alignment instruction, some intentionally avoid it. Some want a heartfelt message accompanying the postures, some want postures only, some want music, some want pose names only, some want oils and incense, some don't allow any scents...there are so many considerations beyond "teaching yoga" that have rippled into a yoga teacher's job.


Hence we end up with a situation where saying "I teach yoga" isn't enough, because what that means from studio to studio, town to town, person to person, comes with quite a bit of room for interpretation.

I have spent a lot of time this summer in the observation deck at the gymnastics center, watching the coaches work with their students. I hear clear instructions, see clear demonstrations, observe clear feedback given, and watch skills be repeated continuously until they are learned. It looks like a school.

In this environment, it seems that the path of learning is clear for student and teacher both, and that at least you know what you're getting when you sign up. I'm certainly not saying this doesn't come with it's own set of problems. Yoga gets to say it's inclusive; I don't think gymnastics can say that. So the ever-morphing, indefinable slippery slope state of 'what yoga is' is not necessarily or entirely a bad thing. Room for interpretation can lead to freedom, and allow for a lot of humanness. We can adjust and modify the curriculum for varying needs, and not just needs, but desires. It's like a candy shop for movers: everybody gets to grab what they want.

When I train new teachers, I usually suggest they get out there, teach wherever they can, and gain experience. When I mentor teachers who have circled back around to me after getting some experience, I start to ask these questions: What do you want to spend your time focusing on when you teach? What do you value in the student/teacher relationship? Who do you like to teach, specifically? This is really step one -- step two comes in learning how to take your answers to those questions and apply them to your teaching choices. When teachers get clear about why they're there and what they're hoping to accomplish, and can learn to communicate that to their audience and be consistent in their aim through delivery, then fewer misunderstandings like "Oh, but I came for the foot massage" occur.

There is room and space for the variety. And with a market which still continues to grow even as many communities are saturated, the best road to success is through honing your aim down to every little choice you make, from your marketing through your student interactions. I heard a friend refer to this one as the "tyranny of small decisions." The small moments of conscious choice will build your brand, so you might as well make them intentionally.

As we grow, we change (thank all the thankable beings!) and then so can our aim. Knowing why you teach doesn't fix you or adhere you to one way. But knowing why you teach helps you know yourself. And then, you can watch yourself change, and make intentional choices as you need, in order to stay caught up with yourself.