There is a popular debate going on within the yoga community about which is better to lead or to teach a yoga class. If you demonstrate postures it is said that you are leading a class and if you give verbal cues to describe the postures you are teaching the class. In this article we will discuss the differences between the two types of teaching and why you might choose one over the other.
First let's make a case for Leading. New students like to see the example given when you show the posture. It makes it easier for them to know how to move in and out of the posture. If your student is hard of hearing, they can see the posture and move towards it.
Let’s make a case for Teaching a class. The primary argument for teaching is that your students can hear the description of the posture. For example In Virabhadrasana (Warrior-I) You might say “Take a large step forward with the right foot. Turn your left foot out to about a forty five degree angle. Now bend your right knee so that it is above the right ankle. Try to go low enough that the right thigh is level. Not everyone can achieve that but it is where you are going with this posture. Lift your chest and extend your arms up over your head and let your gaze go up to the sky.” This kind of verbal cues helps a student maintain the inward attention that Yoga is all about. I often tell my students to try to do as much of a practice with their eyes closed as they can. This practice also helps a student stay within their own practice.
Now let’s make a case against Leading. It is considered to be like playing “Simon Says” any dedicated student can do it. Teacher burnout is a real problem for teachers that do every posture all the time. A teacher may teach several classes a day and then a few more private classes in the evening. That much wear and tear on the body can lead to burn out, sore joints, and wears the teacher out. It is very difficult to look at your student while you are in postures such as Adho Mukha Svasana (Downward Facing Dog) making it almost impossible for the teacher to see if any student needs guidance to adjust their posture. This also proves quite difficult for the students to see what the next posture is going to be. Having to leave the posture to see what the teacher is doing will bring the student out of this inward action.
There is also the case against Teaching. Like any form of communication, using verbal cues can distract a student from the inward action because they have to listen. If the music's too loud or the student is in the back of a class they may not be able to hear the teacher. Lets not forget the aforementioned student who is hard of hearing.
In conclusion, in my opinion giving verbal cues is the better way to teach class. However I believe there is a case for a third style, a blend of the two. By doing each asana only once I remove the risk of burnout. I can then focus on the students when we repeat that asana allowing me to walk around and help adjust students posture showing them modifications helping them achieve their best form. This allows the student to get the most out of their practice. If my students are advanced I don’t have to tell them everything I would to a new student. I don’t have to remind them to keep their knee above their ankle. Thus giving every student that personalized instruction so that they can learn to safely practice at home and gain that ever sought after inward action that Yoga is known for having.