Musings from the Mat

Tools for Teachers: Giving (Even) Better Instructions


Giving (Even) Better Instructions

You’re teaching an awesome class. Textbook perfect. Everything’s going well. Until that one moment when you see the entire class turning THIS way, when you really wanted everyone to go THAT way. Argh! 

It’s a common problem for yoga teachers, and one that’s easy to correct with a little practice and a lot of mindfulness.

The Problem: As we teach, we give multi-layered instructions. Turn to the right. Step the left foot forward. Side-bend right. Inhale. Exhale. Nothing wrong with that. The issue is that our students know us … sometimes too well. They assume we will always go to the right first, for example. Or they just did a sequence on one side, and they assume they know what’s next. But they don’t necessarily remember the sequence — or you’ve choreographed an element into the sequence before repeating it on “Side B” … but they don’t know that and assume they’ll go through the sequence to the other side NOW. 

The students are with you one moment; the next moment, they’ve gotten a step ahead of you.

What’s a yoga teacher to do?

The Solution: We tend to give the breath instruction first, and then we add the movement instruction. E.g., “inhale and elongate; exhale and twist left.” Breath first, then movement. This works really well most of the time. Except when it doesn’t, and the entire class just went the wrong way.

Know exactly what you would like your students to do. Now, plan the movement that’s coming up, and give a more nuanced instruction than the one you usually offer. If you need the class to “twist left” next, give the DIRECTION first, and then very quickly add the breath instruction. E.g., “Inhale and elongate; SIDE BEND LEFT … exhale.” Movement first, then breath. 

In this example, the movement instruction comes a split second before the breath. Students will still do the movement with the correct breath, but now, they will be more certain to move to the side you intended, because you caught the potential for confusion just before they move again. You’ve caught them in the moment before they move — and that is when you need to give that more precise, differently-timed instruction.

The best place to practice this technique may be on “Side B” of the sequence you’re teaching. 

By adding a heightened degree of mindfulness, and precise movement and breath instructions, your students are likely to follow your lead even better, making for smoother transitions and a more elegant teaching style.

Try it and let me know how it works for you!

Tools for Teachers: Giving (Even) Better Instructions
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