I am taking a few moments to check in on my blog before heading down to San Marcos for some appointments before a weekend of Teacher Training. We are in the 8th weekend of our year-long program which is pretty incredible. I love working with a group over a year and watching the changes that happen in everyone's lives throughout the duration of the program. This weekend we are diving deeper into verbal articulation skills both in terms of refining and honing interpersonal communications skills with active listening and needs-identifying work but also with some practical work on verbal skills in teaching.
I love working with verbal skills in teacher training because so much of how we actually teach in the classroom comes down to what we say, how we say it and what we chose not to say. I do not think these are the only teaching skills we use nor do I think that verbal cues are the only way that students learn yoga but, on a very practical level, a huge part of our job is talking people into and out of poses. I get to go over my magic formula for verbal cues which boils down to a simple formula which yields amazing results, believe it or not.
Here is the magic formula for free: Give mostly active commands, in active voice and speak in complete sentences.
Active commands tell a students to do things. If something on the mat requires an action, then phrasing the instruction as an active command is the best bet. For example- saying, "Feel your muscles engage" is different than saying, "Engage your muscles. " Even better would be a cue that would tell someone what to do to engage their muscles, but that is a slightly different lesson.
Active voice is a term from writing but makes a huge difference in the classroom. This type of cue reinforces for the students that they have to take action to make the pose, the action, the alignment, etc. happen.
Listen to the differences:
passive voice- "Feet step wide"/ active voice- "step your feet wide."
passive voice-Arms lift overheard/ active voice -"lift your arms over your head"
This game can go on forever. However, active commands in active voice cue the student that, well, they are going to have to take action since arms do not lift on their own, feet do not step wide on their own, muscles do not engage on their own and so on.
Here is the basic script to use to practice active commands in action voice: verb+body part+in a direction
Step+ your feet +wide.
Tone+ your muscles + to the bone.
Root + your legs+ into the ground.
Draw+ your waistline+ back.
Lift +your chest + up.
Simple. Clear. That is the point here.
The basic script can also be embellished to be: "breath cue+ verb+ body part+ in a direction+ with a feeling" if you really want to go for it.
For instance, "inhale+ lift +your sternum+ toward your chin+triumphantly"
Again, I could go on and on about verbal skills in teaching and the power of the simple instruction. Much like how, in writing, the power of a simple declarative sentence is a fundamental skill that is surprisingly difficult to master, teaching with active commands in active voice is deceptively difficult and surprisingly effective. Admittedly, these distinctions might not sound like much on the surface but these simple shifts in teaching presentation makes a tremendous difference in the classroom and in how the students follow a teacher's instructions.
So- we have all kinds of skill-building drills on the agenda for the weekend. And really, the point of honing presentation skills is really not just to get good at the skill or to model the skills as though the skill itself actually matters. The point of the skills of teaching, in my opinion is to maximize the likelihood that a student can follow our instructions into their own bodies in an efficient and straightforward way. Once the student is inside themselves, then the yoga is teaching them from within rather than from without. To me, listening to the experience of the pose as opposed to simply listening to what the teacher is saying is where the yoga is pointing us. In this way, yoga is a big game in listening.
And let's face it, yoga is an oral tradition. All the way back to the Upanishads we get the clues that in order to learn yoga or to experience the transformation yoga promises, we are going to have to get near the teachings. As many of us have learned in our yoga philosophy courses, the word upanishad means to "sit down near", or to "sit close to" and implies that learning in yoga is going to happen in proximity to the teacher, the teachings and to the Source. To me, proximity is both exoteric and esoteric- meaning there is both an inner and an outer process going on when it comes to the exploring the Teaching.
The outer forms of proximity seem obvious enough- find a teacher, get to class, go to the lectures, participate in the retreats, take the trainings, go to darshan, etc. where the teaching is being given. There is also the inner aspect of proximity where we find the pathways through practice and study and inner inquiry to get closer to our own wisdom, to sit down near our own sense of right and wrong and to engage a relationship with ourselves through which we become students of our own direct experience and where the various postures of our lives are teaching us from within. The process of navigating the inner and outer processes of proximity is what is most important to me about yoga practice these days.
Without this experiential and sustained link to my inner experience, I will have no other choice but to fit myself into outer forms- be those forms the classic postures, various alignment protocols, values, behaviors, expectations, etc. Even those ideals deemed "yogic" or "appropriate", when engaged only from the outside, might simply reinforce the age-old patterns of conformity or rebellion that are referenced in not-enough, different-from and every other shame-based message imaginable. And all that reinforcement can happen even in the name of yoga and even with the best intentions behind the effort. (Although don't get me wrong, some good structure and some good protocols are pretty helpful along the way I am just saying I think they are tools, not the point.)
Anyway, enough for today. More soon.
Follow This Blog
"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."