A 30 year old yoga student returned to class a few years back. After a long hiatus, he told me that he was ready to return to yoga. He had been unable to continue his practice for many years because of his busy schedule. He was hesitant to return until now because of another thing. I was shocked to hear this. My first teaching experience was marred by a very embarrassing case of beginner’s pride. My yoga teaching language required a lot of work.
I have given a lot energy over the past 20-years to mindful speech . I made a huge speech faux pas, which is what it took so often. After that speech, I committed to being more conscious of the effect my speech has on others. This, naturally, translated into my yoga teaching language and my daily life.
Our first responsibility as yoga teachers is to provide a safe environment for our students. We don’t know the kind of trauma or conditioning they bring to their practice. It is important to make yoga teaching language as open, honest, non-judgmental, and welcoming as possible.
YOGA TEACHING LANGUAGE 3 CRUCIAL QUESTIONS TO ANSWER BEFORE YOU SPEAK
Speaking becomes second nature by the time we reach adulthood. It is second nature to speak in the first language. It can be difficult to control what we say. Sometimes it can feel like we are taking a step backward. Yet, yoga teachers have the responsibility to think before they speak.
The three questions I’m about introducing may be familiar to you. These questions have been part of our culture for some time. These questions can be used to keep communication clear in daily life. These questions can be a valuable tool for forming the language of yoga teaching.
These are the questions:
- Are you sure what I am about to say is true?
- Are they useful?
- Is it benign or harmful?
HOW TO INTRODUCE THE 3 QUESTIONS INTO YOGA TEACHING LANGUAGE
These questions can be applied to yoga teaching. While I will give you some examples, I encourage you to think about them all. These are just a few of the questions you can ask when teaching yoga.
Is it true?
We don’t know a lot about yoga, no matter how long we have been doing it. We only have a small amount of information about our students’ unique genetics and physical and mental conditions. Students will undoubtedly ask questions that we cannot answer immediately. It’s vital that we are open and transparent in sharing our knowledge, but it’s also important to acknowledge what we don’t know. It’s OK, and even essential for the learning process of our students and ourselves to be honest with them when we don’t know the answer. This can serve as a springboard to co-learning with students.
It can be useful to ask students why they are asking the question. You may gain more insight from their explanations, which can help you ask more questions. This will help you to get to the root of the problem.
Is It Useful?
Students come to your classes for many reasons. Some students come to relax and decompress. Some people come to take care of their bodies, or address a specific issue. Others come to learn how yoga can help them live more comfortably. They won’t be interested in your opinion on politics or the latest drama. It is important to create a relaxed, casual environment that encourages students to be creative and not distract them from their work. There are exceptions. Sometimes, a short story can help you make the concept more relatable. Your speech should be relevant to the current situation of the class.
WHAT IS IT?
This is, of course the most important question you need to ask to make your class feel safe. As I mentioned in the first paragraph: One arrogant or dismissive comment could turn a student off yoga for years, if not forever. Yoga has a responsibility to us to show it the wisdom and compassion that it deserves.
Here are some ideas:
- It is difficult to let go of the use of “good” or “bad”. These words are subjective judgements. You can use words like “healthy” and “unhealthy,” or “helpful” and “unhelpful.” Next, explain why you believe that. Encourage them to look into this themselves.
- Different types of yoga are sometimes practiced by yoga students. You may not like the style of yoga your students are using. You may not be a fan of their teacher. Please do not disparage other styles or teachers . Your student benefits in some way by practicing different yoga styles. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing it. Your student will be degraded if you criticize a teacher or yoga style. It makes you appear small. It is neither useful nor unique.
- Do not say, “If [insert pose] is impossible for you, try [a different pose] instead.” You can offer modifications without saying that you are incapable of doing “full expressions” of a pose. I prefer to first offer modifications, then provide options for more variations. I avoid categorizing poses as “beginner” or “advanced.” Instead, I encourage students to try any version that creates a gentle to moderate stretch, allows them easy breathing, and allows them time to enjoy the experience.
One suggestion for all of the questions above is to pause before speaking. You must practice. It can be helpful to take your time and form your responses rather than just uttering them out loud. This allows you to clarify your intentions. It takes intention and willingness to change speech habits. You must also be willing to forgive yourself for failing. Instead, learn from your mistakes and move on. Your yoga teaching skills will make it easier for your students and your life.