Alright, so I’m in my Saturday morning yoga class and, doubtless due to the CCK08 influence, my mind wanders to noticing the structure of the class and the role played by my yoga teacher. This is a class of, roughly, 25 adults, who come together for a 75-minute class once a week. This instructor (Cheryl) is in her early 50’s – a very experienced yoga teacher – with a regular and devoted following.
For those of you who’ve never been in a yoga class, here’s how it works. You arrive on time (it is a serious etiquette breach to enter a class already in progress), put your yoga mat down on a spot on the floor, and then the instructor leads you through a series of movements (poses) designed to give you a full work out that, if you work hard, will lead to better body alignment, greater overall health, relaxation, and a scad of other benefits (both physical and spiritual).
Yoga classes vary widely – different practices and traditions – but they also vary with the personality of the instructor. I like Cheryl very much. She’s efficient, clear, and no nonsense. Some instructors are ridiculously hard – asking students to contort their bodies into these impossible poses way beyond the level of the possible. Others are way too easy and lax, taking forever to work through the simplest of things. And, to my supreme annoyance, some instructors give you little mini lectures at the beginning – about their auras or their diet or their mantras (whatever…) – which is waaay more information than I need on Saturday morning.
So, today, I paid more attention to my instructor – what did she say and do to make the class flow so logically and expertly from beginning to end? What is it, exactly, about this class (and about her) that works so well?
So here’s what I noticed. I was very taken by the instructor’s precisely decriptive language. Some of the yoga poses are quite difficult, requiring steady concentration and continual adjustment to make them work for you. I became aware of the way that Cheryl’s descriptions really helped me hone in on a mental picture of what I was supposed to be doing. For instance, in a lunge pose she described how my back leg should work like the rear leg of an easel, supporting the front and taking all of the weight. That image worked for me – and my lunge improved.
Later she described how we could use the centerline of our mat to adjust the centerline of our body and how to fous on a distant object in order to achieve a more comfortable balance. She used a number of useful analogies during the class – think of your breath as a colored fog, use your thigh muscles like a lever, let your head hang down like a rag doll. Each analogy, each verbal description moved the physical along a path closer to her goals for us.
Yes, I can do yoga on my own. I can read about it in books, get online and study photos and videos of the poses, I could even join a yoga social network to deepend my practice. All of that will work for me but I can also see the extraordinary value of the teacher. She had a plan for that class this morning, she lead us through it briskly and efficiently, she guided me when I slipped off target, she clarified with her words when something was muddy, she answered questions as they came up, and she sent all of us off, right on time, in a better place than we’d been when we started.