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Yoga Hero: Teachers Podcast – Episode 42

42: Should yoga teachers demo while teaching?

This episode is exploring the answer, your individual answer, to the question: Should yoga teachers demo while teaching?

We’ll look at some reasons to demo, some reasons not to demo, and a few things to bear in mind overall.

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Previous Episodes of Yoga Hero: Teachers Podcast

Episode 43: Should yoga teachers care about money?

Episode 42: Should yoga teachers demo while teaching?

Episode 41: Should yoga teachers use Sanskrit?

Episode 40: The business of teaching Yoga Nidra

Episode 39: How to develop a consistent Yoga Nidra practice (even with a busy life)

Episode 38: A Yoga Nidra for yoga teachers

Episode 37: Yoga Nidra: The art of sleeping to wake up

Episode 36:: How I Became a Full-Time Yoga Teacher

Episode 35: How to Become a Full-Time Yoga Teacher

Episode 34: Balancing having a job and teaching yoga

Episode 33: Balancing Parenting and Teaching Yoga

Episode 32: How to teach yoga workshops

Episode 31: How much to charge for your yoga classes

Episode 30: How to create your yoga brand

Episode 29: How to layer your asana classes with yoga philosophy

Episode 28: What’s your WHY as a yoga teacher

Episode 27: Setting up your own classes as a yoga teacher

Episode 26: How would you teach yoga if you weren’t afraid?

Episode 25: Do I need a yoga brand?

Episode 24: Tips for new yoga teachers

Episode 23: Define who you are as a yoga teacher

Episode 22: Yoga adjustments: Some important considerations

Episode 21: Tips for teaching yoga beginners

Episode 20: The joys of being a yoga teacher

Episode 19: Overcome imposter syndrome as a yoga teacher

Episode 18: Create your social media calendar

Episode 17: A complete guide to sequencing yoga classes

Episode 16: Do you need to teach a new yoga sequence each week?

Episode 15: Introducing yoga philosophy in to your asana classes


Transcript – Should yoga teachers demo while teaching?

Hello and welcome to For Yoga Teachers. This podcast has been created to help yoga teachers teach with passion, avoid burn out and earn a fair living.


This episode is exploring the answer, your individual answer, to the question: Should yoga teachers demo while teaching?

We’ll look at some reasons to demo, some reasons not to demo, and a few things to bear in mind overall.

Let’s go!

In my experience, teaching yoga while demonstrating the poses comes easiest when learning how to teach; and by that I mean, being able to stand there and talk through alignment instructions and transition guidance, without moving your body through it, does not come naturally to most people. I have had a few yoga teacher trainees who have preferred to talk over demo right from the get go – but it’s really rare. I’ve graduated nearly 200 teachers and can only think of two who preferred verbal instructions right from day 1, so it’s really small percentage.

So; with that in mind, we can assume that for most people, learning to teach yoga without demoing is a skill to be cultivated. So here I give you my advice that I always say; remove barriers. Take your time. If you decide to work on your skill of teaching yoga without demonstrating poses, you have the whole of the rest of your life, or your yoga career at least, to refine this skill.

Reasons to demo

How people learn

Your yogis will learn in different ways; some will be able to take the verbal instruction and do the pose. But some won’t. Some *will* need to see to be able to translate your verbal instructions in to a language that their body understands. I always think here of using the sat nav. If most people could take verbal instruction and go from there, then the sat nav wouldn’t need a screen. But often, we’ll hear something like ‘turn left in 50 feet’ but we’ll need to also see that in writing and / or a diagram on the map to fully integrate and execute the instruction.

I worked really hard on teaching without demoing in my first year of teaching. I’ve shared before that I would teach up to 28 classes a week; and frankly, that’s ridiculous anyway but it would have been impossible if I demo’d throughout each class, so for me in the first instance it came out of necessity. Interestingly, a few months in to teaching full time, a lady who was blind came to my classes, so demoing was pointless. I was really nervous, I really wanted this lady to have the same experience as everyone else, but it absolutely amplified my ability and confidence to teach without demoing. Anyway. Enough about me. All that to say I worked hard to teach without relying on demoing, I felt that what I was saying was clear but sometimes, people would look at me quizzically, or do something else, or be looking around the room in a panicked way and I’d think pfffft why aren’t they listening. It was the sat nav analogy for me that made me realise that they were listening with their ears but there was a disconnect between that instruction being processed by the brain and relayed out to the body; they needed different or additional information.

So. Let’s summarise that first point; your yogis might need instruction that’s more than, or different to, just verbal.

Solidarity!

If you’re teaching some core work, or arm balances or something quite challenging, doing the poses and the sequences with your yogis can create a sense of solidarity, rather than everyone busting a gut on their mat while you waltz around barking orders!

To quell your nerves

Let’s face it – teaching yoga can be nerve-wracking! If you’re more comfortable demonstrating, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with leaning on demoing to get through a class when you’re feeling particularly nervous. Especially if the alternative is being overwhelming and risking freezing, or making lots of mistakes. Give your yogis the best class that’s within your ability in that moment.

Reasons not to demo

Make your yogis glad they came to your class

There’s so much on-demand online yoga around now that, as in-person yoga teachers, we have a job to make the yogi really glad that they swerved the pub, that they got off the sofa, that they left the house and came and rolled out a yoga mat in your class. This means not teaching like you would on a video; responding to the people in front of you. Are they getting tired? If so you can slow down a bit, offer a pause and a quiet moment. Are they all taking every challenging option you give? You could add in more challenges, or speed the class up a bit. Are they all familiar with many of the poses you’re teaching? If so, rather than churning out the basic instructions for the pose; that arm here, that leg here; you can offer more refined instruction; feel this area engage, feel this relax, breathe in to here…

Make your yogis glad that they came to your class. Make eye contact, smile, offer adjustments if you have consent and if this is something that you’d like to do, and teach *them*, watch how they move, tailor your class and your sequence (this might come slowly, or in a few years) as you go through the class to give your yogis what they really need. If you get everyone in to the first downward facing dog and you can see there’s some reeeeeally tight hamstrings, or back lines, you might even be in a position to put your original class plan down and teach something that will loosen that off. Like I say, this might be something that comes with time – something you just find yourself doing naturally in a few years, this is not something to put pressure on yourself about.

Uniqueness of bodies

One of the things that comes up very very often is how much yoga teachers forget what it was like to be a beginner yogi. Even if you have tension in your body, even if you don’t consider yourself to be particularly fit; you still have the language of yoga in your body, and things like Downward Dog, lunges, Warrior 2, plank, have all become easier for you. So when you can do a – let’s say – lunge with your arms up and talk, your lunge might feel, and look, a LOT different to those who are in your class. If they were to try to replicate the positioning of your feet or the shape of your spine, that might not be right for their body. Whereas if you can use skilled verbal instruction – step back this much, get solid through the feet, find strength in the here and now raise the arms carefully… this might be more safe and more beneficial for the yogi.

You can teach who’s in front of you

When you’re doing Downward Facing Dog, you’re looking at your feet – you’re not looking at your yogis. So you might be banging out ’spread the weight through your fingers! Bend your legs if you need to (actually don’t get me started on that phrase: ‘if you need to’!) But your yogis might already have the weight distributed evenly in their hands, they might already have their legs bent. So you’re wasting your breath – they don’t need those instructions but they might need something else which you’ve missed because you’re not looking at them, you’re not observing their alignment.

Increased risk of injury

When you’re demoing and teaching, you’re by definition less mindful of your own body and alignment which can lead to injury. Also demonstrating more leads to feeling more tired, and when the body gets tired it defaults to the path of least resistance- I.e. slumping through bones rather than integrating strength in the muscles. All this increases the chance of getting injured when demoing.

There’s a couple of things to bear in mind overall, let’s take a look:

When demoing, be mindful of when people can see you.

For example, if you’ve got your yogis laid down on their backs on the floor and *then* you demo Setu Bandasana, bridge pose, by demoing it, you’re implying that your yogis should be watching, and so what you’ll probably find is that they’re laid down, straining their necks to see you at the front of the class. Another example, which is also really common, is downward facing dog. When your yogis are doing downward dog, they should be looking at the back of the room. You’re at the front of the room. So by demoing it, when they’re in it, again you’ll probably find that they’re straining their necks to see what you’re doing.

When demoing, be mindful of always demoing on one side

It’s really common for yoga teachers to demo a sequence, let’s say on the right side, then when it’s repeated on the left, to go walking around the room, so just try to change up the side that you demo and the side that you don’t.

If you have the skill, you can use it when you want

If you have cultivated the skill of teaching verbally only, you can use it when you judge it to be right, and use demoing when you judge that to be right. You might demo more at the beginning of a class and less towards the end, or vice versa. You might demo lots in one particular class you teach, but then go mainly verbal in others.

However, without cultivating the skill, you’re always going to be relying on demoing. Also, if you’re a full time yoga teacher, you might have to teach when you’re injured, or when you’re really tired or both. Obviously this is less than ideal – I’d recommend taking steps to avoid this worst case scenario. But, that said, if you have the ability to teach verbally only, then the risk of teaching when injured or tired is decreased really quite a bit.

In short, there’s no one right way of teaching. There really isn’t. People will tell you ‘you should do this and you shouldn’t do that’, but they’re not you, they don’t know you as well as you do and they certainly don’t know your yogis. My advice would be to cultivate the skill of teaching verbally so that you can use, now and in the future, it to watch your yogis move, to learn from their bodies and movement patterns, to respond to them accordingly, and to be able to use when you don’t have the energy or ability to move.

But how you teach is completely personal to you. Watch out for clues that people need more or less guidance. Trust your gut. Be kind to yourself. Build the skill of teaching verbally slowly and keep good feedback that you receive from your yogis. You’ve got this!

Yoga teacher, I hope that’s helped provide some insight to help you answer the question for you: should yoga teachers demo while teaching. If you’d be so kind to share this episode with other yoga teachers, we’d be so so grateful!

And as always, happy teaching!