Teaching Methodology. The 4 Tools of Teaching
Tools of Teaching
For any yoga teacher, verbal instructions should be the primary way of guiding your students throughout the class. There are four so-called ‘Tools of Teaching’ that are useful reminders for when you are teaching:
As mentioned, verbal instructions should be the primary way of guiding the class. All asana classes require a lot of general verbal instructions and depending on your style more details (e.g. Iyengar style or therapeutic).
Here are some general tips regarding instructing:
- Always ask and invite students to practice with an alert awareness and friendly and compassionate mind. This is most important about yoga, developing awareness is why we teach yoga. Awareness about the mind, emotions, bodily sensations, etc.
We develop awareness not to judge or punish ourselves but, through observing and understanding, making the transformation
- Voice: loud but soft and melodious (adjust your volume to the size of the group and the venue)
- Use different intonations, so as not to sound monotone (maybe speak louder to encourage the students during a difficult posture, and softer during restorative postures and meditation)
- Articulate properly
- Speak slowly and clearly
- Watch the students while you explain (don’t be engrossed by your own practice)
- Be aware of instructions while you are demonstrating
- Use short concise sentences
- Choose your focus (depending on the focus of the class): alignment, flow, awareness
- Give suggestions for inhalations and exhalations, especially for Vinyasa Flow classes
- Don’t confuse yourself and the class while using the English and Sanskrit asana names: use them if you know them only and if you have the feeling that the students understand them too
- Sometimes, just don’t speak – silence is very beautiful!
- If you talk about alignment in the asana: start from the feet and work your way up
- Integrate indications, benefits, contra-indications
- When going into alignment in a very detailed manner, be aware of how long the students are standing in the posture. Staying long in a posture definitely develops stamina and muscle strength, however for beginning students it just might simply be too much.
There is a chance that they damage their ligaments and tendons if they do not have the strength to use their muscular energy properly throughout the posture. You can always take the students out of the posture and simply do it again after a short pause!
- Give instructions to individual students as well as the group as a whole
- Suggestions for beginners:
- Always give options
- Choose mainly basic postures and some more difficult to challenge students slowly
- Slow down the class as that makes it less confusing for beginners and at the same time, it is a challenge for advanced students
- For aspiring teachers, it can be useful to make a few lists of your most commonly used instructions, also instructions that you pick up from other teachers.
It’ll greatly improve your instructing vocabulary to attend classes of other teachers and help you diversify your teaching instructions so you don’t repeat the same instructions in every class, although some repetition is inevitable and absolutely fine.
- Do not be afraid to use a little humor, yoga doesn’t always have to be serious and challenging, it may help you connect with your students as well as relieving a little pressure in the students during an intense practice. Use your common sense and adjust your teaching style to the students in your class.
As a beginning teacher demonstrating happens kind of naturally without thinking about it, because it is easier if you are in the pose yourself, so you know what to describe and instruct.
However, we highly recommend you not to fall into the ‘trap’ of demonstrating too much (all the time). Demonstrating whilst teaching prevents you from walking around and being available for the class and your students. It may also be challenging for the students to hear you properly (try giving clear instructions while in downward facing dog )
Remember most of all this class you are teaching and it is not your own asana class, don’t regard this as your own practice!
Moreover, if you are demonstrating you can’t properly observe what is going on, you can’t adequately adjust your students. So use demonstrations scarcely and think twice if you decide to demonstrate.
- Always combine demonstration with instruction
- Take care of yourself while you demonstrate. Did you warm up properly yourself? Switch demonstrating on the left and on the right side.
Respect your own limitation at that point in time: do not try to go deeper ‘to show off’, do not demonstrate a headstand when you are in your menstruation, etc.
- Demonstrate where the class can see you, not necessarily on your mat (walk around!)
- Demonstrate if you know the pose properly – if not, you can always ask a student to demonstrate
- Mirror, especially in twists, inform the students that you are mirroring to avoid any confusion
- Think about your angle of demonstration: from the front/the side/facing students
- If you are not warmed up or you cannot come into the pose: ask a (preferably advanced) student to demonstrate the pose. This is nice for the student and it leaves your hands free to do or properly point out specific elements of the posture.
Observing your students in an asana class is of paramount importance for any teacher but especially if the skill level of your students is diverse.
From the front of the room you should have ample opportunity to scan all students and also develop eye contact, so at the start of a class don’t be afraid to perhaps move your own mat or to move your students around so you have a better view of the room.
Depending on the purpose of the class, there are different things you can observe:
- The level of attention – if you feel or see that students are wandering ask them to gently come back or simply include a more challenging balancing posture. That usually works
- Observe the breathing pattern of the student and gently invite or guide the group or individual student to breathe calmly
- The musculoskeletal alignment: this is very tricky as a beginning teacher. You might look but not actually see what is happening.
During this training, we will study and observe different postures and body types in several asanas to develop that skill. Be gentle on yourself and also notice that your ‘eye’ develops as you teach more.
You will find that you start understanding better how to adjust and what type of suggestions to give to which student.
- When looking at the musculoskeletal alignment you can keep the following in mind:
- Scan the body from feet to head. Sometimes something seems ‘wrong’ in the torso or hip area, but that can very often be ‘corrected’ by adjusting the feet
- What is the purpose of the posture? For example in a downward dog we want to lengthen the spine, so look for that. Then adjust the feet or knees, or arms, or hands to achieve that
- Observation is paramount to achieve correct asanas
- Keep an overview of the whole class, observing all the students
- Look at the student’s face and body
- Use what you see and respond accordingly, visually check the poses and instruct verbally
Most beginners have very little bodily awareness. Some other people learn best when someone comes and fixes them in the proper position so that they can memorize how the pose feels (kinesthetic individuals).
This is where manual adjustments come in. This step is done last so that you don’t need to spend a lot of time adjusting everyone if you have done the steps prior to this one. Just spot the people that still don’t “get it”.
Adjustments don’t have to be done all the time because it takes time. But if you see someone who is possibly hurting themselves through misalignment then this is a must. (Each posture has specific manual adjustments – this will be covered separately).
Guidelines to Manual Adjustments:
- Always ask before you touch someone – some people are not comfortable with it
- Explain what you are doing when you adjust so the client knows what’s going on
- Before you adjust anything, check that the base is stable – adjust from the ground up
- Never put pressure on joints
- Never press directly on any part of the spine
- Instead of pressing down on anything, apply pressure in a specific direction that is appropriate for the necessary result
- When adjusting to deepen a stretch, ask the client to inhale, and then apply the pressure on the exhale
- Never force past the point of pain – listen to your client’s body
- Relax: perfection is only secondary to safety
- Know the difference between tension and compression.