3 reasons why ‘playing yoga by ear’ deepens your practice
When I first started coming to classes at Yoga from the Heart, it quickly became clear that this was a yoga studio unlike any other place I’d attended classes before. One of the first things I noticed was the interactive teaching style used there.
Instead of having an instructor stuck on a mat at the front of the classroom, calling out names of poses and demonstrating them physically, the teacher moved around constantly: observing each student, perhaps manually adjusting in response to what was seen, and giving us precise, spoken step-by-step instructions along with words of encouragement. It was a brand-new way to experience yoga!
Turns out I’m not alone in becoming a fan of this teaching style. Andrea Ginsky, a fellow classmate at Yoga from the Heart, recently shared her experience with me.
Andrea, who began practicing regularly at Yoga from the Heart in 2016, said, “I’m now actually able to just listen to the cues as opposed to having to look around to see if I’m doing it “right”. In other words, I’m finally able to hear the cues and then process the poses. I don’t have to look at the teacher or other students anymore to see what I should be doing in my own body. I’m playing it by ear, so to speak.”
To better understand our reactions, I went to master teacher and studio head, Lynn Burgess, and asked if she could shed some light on this teaching modality. Here’s what she had to say.
Q: Why do some teachers only ‘demo’ a pose with minimal spoken instruction?
A: Whether new to yoga or simply to this type of yoga instruction, it can apparently be a culture shock (laughs). There are times when demonstration is unavoidable, but for the most part, students know what you mean when you say “lift your right leg up.”
I believe that students are better able to “feel” the postures from verbal instruction and go deeper into the practice than from watching someone else. It might feel frightening for some teachers to leave the “safety” of their mat and ‘demo’ing, but I believe we want to encourage students to honor their expression of the pose using their own bodies, not attempting copy one of teachers’.
Walking around the room not only gives you a chance to adjust students and observe the class from a different perspective, but also invites students to take their eyes off what you, their teacher, is doing and tune into their own practice.
Q: What are the benefits to the yoga student of practicing classes that rely on a ‘telling not showing’ philosophy?
- First, it affirms that all human beings have transformational potential regardless of age or condition. We all have the ability to be lifelong learners. This is just another area in which to exercise that potential to learn and transform ourselves.
- Second, by telling students what to do with their bodies in a given pose instead of just showing them, we as teachers empower our students to ‘own’ their yoga practice. Listening, thinking, sensing, moving and imagining in their own bodies help students learn how to mobilize intentions into action. The process facilitate mind-body connection on and off the mat.
- Third, listening to and processing cues on their own allows students to self-regulate the yoga practice, letting each one express poses in a way that honors how their bodies are functioning in the present moment. If students simply watch and imitate what the instructor is doing, they’re attempting to do someone else’s poses. There’s no curiosity or exploration or the chance to accept what is discovered in the process.