And the beat goes on! It’s the third straight and full weekend in a row of teacher training action – which, mind you, is different from movement. More on that later. It’s been a whirlwind trip on YD express lately so it felt fantastic to go back to basics for this week’s YTT theme “teaching beginners”. Yes! Let’s break it on down. But of course, as all yogadorks can tell you, ‘beginner’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘easy’. The week kicked off with my first mentor in-class assisting, which was a level 1/2 and involved a lot more seeing than anything else, with some light adjustments. Rudimentary? Maybe. Easy? Absolutely not. Observing students is like watching a toddler striving to walk – there are so many things you want to say to help! Straighten that knee! Spread your toes! Relax your face! But there’s only so much you can do before they learn how to take those steps on their own. Not that yoga students are identical to 2-year-olds, but they have their uncanny similarities! More on that later, too. As I mentioned before, this apprenticeship is one of the most valuable aspects of the training, and the first assisting duty didn’t let me down. If we don’t SEE how can we know? Can’t wait to go again.
Moving on. Wednesday was teacher practicum #2: modifications vs. variations and instructions for beginners vs. intermediate students. As it so happens, beginners need much more explicit directions, but for the sake of their poor newbie yoga minds and bodies, no one said more verbose. Keep it simple, skippy! After some more posture lab work, we also had an opportunity to share with the group our own thoughts on the qualities we think make a good yoga teacher. Clue: no one said dull and self-absorbed. While this seems like a simple exercise, yet again we’re left with the complexity of folding those special je ne sais quoi touches into our own version of Super WonderYogi batter (for the Super WonderYogi machine, of course! which, unfortunately, is not part of the YTT tuition, but can be considered a lifelong DIY project). Another thing to be mindful of in teaching beginners? The difference between movement and ACTION. Everyone can move! But instructing specific actions in poses, like externally rotate your upper arms in utthita hastasana, creates a deeper sense of bodily awareness and conscious connections, an especially important and very new concept for most beginners. And, it’s hard! Try teaching that to a 2-year-old! We mature adults have our advantages.
On to the weekend. Saturday was fully focused on teaching beginner how-tos. Want to serve the class? Think like a waitress! Hey Sam’s never practiced yoga before and he’s hunching in sukhasana – get him some blankets to sit on! Frida has super tight hamstrings – get her some blocks! Tommy is working extra hard but just doesn’t quite get the instruction to relax his jaw and breathe no matter how many times you repeat it – say it again! Maybe in a different way. All the while keep the sequence running through your brain like a an order you just took from a party of 15, and they’ve got lots of ‘hold the onions’… ‘I ordered decaf!’ … ‘can I have hash browns instead of toast?’ substitutions to adjust to. It’s called thinking on your feet. And by the time Sunday rolled around that’s exactly what we had to do – with real live specimen! We were blessed with 18 brave and daring yogi-hopefuls who showed up with open minds and a willingness to let us hone those Super WonderYogi skills. Two and a half hours, 17 at-once-panicked with nerves and eager to learn teacher trainees, 1 very warm and discerning senior teacher, and approximately 20-something poses later, we had 18 sweaty and savasana’d yogis. Satisfied customers. huzzah! Each one of us trainees had made some sort of goof in our bit of teaching, but that was the beauty of this practice, and we all learned more from the mistakes and/or reactions from the students than we’d ever anticipated. Indeed, we saw teaching make that vital step from movements, something a 2-year-old can do, to conscious actions, allowing us to SEE the consequences. We’re all beginners at something at one time or another, and the more we can return to that beginner’s mind the more opportunities there are to learn and grow.
There are so many questions to be answered. As for the Super WonderYogi? We have the rest of our lives for that.
Question: We also shared our first yoga experience and what we remembered about the teacher. Would love to hear about your own experiences, and what you learned about the teacher, what you liked and maybe what you didn’t.
YD yoga school updates should come pretty regularly on Sundays, at the wrap of each week. Disclosure: Training is with YogaWorks, NYC (I am not being paid to say that, Paula Lynch rocks).