I polled my Facebook page and my FB anatomy workgroup page a few weeks back and asked for questions from teachers. One of the questions was, “How do I know I”m teaching clearly and effectively?” It also included a few other questions, “How to learn better cues,” and “How to think fast on your feet if people are not responding.” These are all excellent questions and show a real interest in being of service but also being as effective as possible as a teacher.
Let me start out by saying that teaching is of course, a partnered experience. Meaning, your part as the teacher, from a high level, is to teach the class. The student’s part, though, is to be present and do their best (you’re supposed to be present too, of course). Just as it’s not solely the responsibility of the student, it’s not your entire responsibility either. How your words land, the focus of the student, both of your levels of commitment; these are just some of the factors that might have an impact on the student’s experience in the class.
But of course, as a teacher, you take your role seriously and you want your students to have the best possible experience. So, to that end, much of that depends on you and what you do. I won’t go into all the other factors outside the teaching itself; things like the check in process, the room set up, the quality of music if you’re using it, the room temperature and all the other factors outside of your teaching. But keep in mind those things are part of the experience also.
Let’s break down the question above into a few parts:
“How do I know if I’m teaching effectively?”
I would say the best way to know, outside of asking your students, “How am I doing?” which of course, you would never do, is to watch them. Look for how they respond to what you’re saying. Are they moving in a way that shows that they understand the cues? Look for their response to the pace of the class. Are most people keeping up with the pace you’re offering? Look at their overall coordination and movement. Not only are they able to keep up, do they appear involved, energized or do they seem tired and slow? Keep in mind there are indeed some classes where the general sense IS that people are tired. That’s a whole other conversation. But in most cases, you want to see that your students are keeping up, are generally moving in synch with your pace and your cues.
“How do I learn better cues?”
Learning better cueing comes with two things: Experience and knowledge. It comes from time in the trenches teaching lots of classes. It comes from teaching in many different situations, to many different populations with different levels of experience. AND, it comes from knowledge. In my opinion, the biggest part of providing effective cues is understanding anatomy. This is because yoga, while of course a multi-layered practice, steeped in tradition and history, is, at it’s core, a movement practice. And, in order to provide effective cues, you must understand how the body moves, the key parts of the body and the mechanics of how they work (and don’t work) to give helpful cues.
One thing I will say is that if you want to really know how to learn better cues, teach beginners. Tell the studio you want to teach a beginner’s class. If they don’t have one, maybe you’re just the inspiration they need to start one. Why is teaching beginners such a great way to learn better cues? Because beginners will do exactly what you ask. They are really depending on you to tell them how to do it. And, furthermore, the more you say, the more confused a beginner will get. And, the more complex you make the movement, the harder it is for a beginner to keep up. It’s not that they don’t “get it” intellectually, it’s often that their body has no experience moving in the way you’re suggesting so they’re moving through a lot of resistance. The more complex the movement, the sequence and the cues, the harder for them to keep up.
So, to summarize this topic: to learn better cues, teach as much as you can. Teach your friends, teach your family, teaching your golfing buddies, your book club and obviously, teach your studio classes. Make notes after class about what worked and what didn’t. Record yourself just going through a sequence. Learn as much as you can about anatomy through books, online courses, webinars and workshops. My website here is filled with lots of resources for you all on this topic. But most importantly, look at your students. Don’t practice. Watch them. See if what you’re saying is having the desired effect. If not, change what you’re saying. Use the shortest phrases you can to get the point across. So, things like: “Coming into Warrior 1, please step your right foot forward and be sure it’s straight. Place both feet down and then center your hips. Stack your shoulders over your hips and reach your arms straight up.” This becomes: “Step your right foot forward, press both heels down and reach up.”
That gets them into the pose. From there, give a few other suggestions and that’s it.
If you’re looking for written cues on every major pose, my anatomy manual, The Bare Bones Yoga Guide to Anatomy, has each pose outlined with cues and the anatomy behind the pose.
“How to think on my feet if people are not responding?”
This part comes with experience too. The more you teach, the less flustered you get and you’re able to change course without a break in the sequence. Having said that, remember that even for a new teacher, if you’re present, meaning really there with your students, not practicing, not looking at your notes, not even assisting, that gives you plenty of time to say something and then watch what happens. If you don’t see the expected result, say something different. You might only have to change it a little bit and then you’ll see the shift. And, lastly, remember, it’s not about anyone doing it perfectly; it’s more about showing up. So, after a few seconds, if you don’t see what you expect, move on.
To hear more anatomy cues in a 60 minute sequence, check out my online class on Vimeo.
Thanks for reading!