Teach in a Student-Centered Way

As published by Human Kinetics

I remember the days of my first yoga teacher training, studying and memorizing the right words to say to get a group of people to experience a certain yoga pose: “cues” as they’re called in movement teaching. There was a part of me that really enjoyed hearing them, just as I enjoyed reciting them. Maybe it was the to-do list part of me that enjoyed feeling the success of each small feat: “Place your feet at 30 degrees.” Done. “Bend your knee on top of your ankle.” Done! Even if I couldn’t completely perform a yoga pose, I could at least turn my feet in . .  and that always felt like success. Cuing is a beautiful system of instructing a group, and it does offer the feeling of fulfillment in a way that relaxes. By having a teacher instruct the recipe for the yoga pose, you are guided in every step of the way. What a wonderful experience!

However, in my first few years of teaching, I discovered that one cue does not fit all. This is now realized in the yoga world and, fortunately, adaptive options have begun to exist. I experience that once you teach groups of people twice a week for many years, there comes a need to replenish and rejuvenate instruction. I sought out new words and new ways to tell people how to build their asanas, and that helped for a while.

Honestly, I miss those days. I miss the feeling of just saying “turn your feet like this,” or “reach your arms like that.” It was so much easier to learn words than to seek for meaning behind them.

With the deepening of my studies came entrance into the Franklin Method, which has given me both a deeper understanding of functional anatomy and an ability to see it in my body and in others. My teaching has shifted from a cuing perspective centered around words to a student-centered approach. I can lead with my eyes open to see what is really happening in the room, what needs to be addressed, and where the flow of the class is going. I now have an open environment where people ask questions; when there is an interest in learning more about one thing, the class can then move in that direction. My goal is to offer the intention and experience of each pose as the wording so it will apply to everyone and then my students can search for the pose from the inside out.

This teaching style also allows variation inside of asana. For example, think of the top arm in trikonasana (triangle pose). There are lots of areas of focus for that arm that will completely vary the experience. Highlight the fan shape of the pec minor and slide your hand along its path (from the third to the fifth ribs to the front of the scapula and to the inside of your arm bone) and then with the reach of the top arm, picture this space elongating and lengthening. You might also be able to sense the precise location of the head of the arm bone, resting onto the very shallow cup of the shoulder socket. Or, think in terms of flow and imagine that there is a general current flowing along with the shortening and lengthening of muscles in front and back: a flow up the front of the arm and down the back of the arm. Notice those three approaches offer a completely different experience of the top arm.

I encourage yoga teachers to have these tools from Franklin Method to apply to their yoga classes. It will change your cuing life completely, and you will never teach in absolutes again. Some teachers are resistant to that, but it will truly help to empower students to find their own asana. More importantly, it will allow them space to uncover certain patterns in their bodies and even in their approach, which may just change their lives. And why not? Why shouldn’t each yoga practice change the participant’s life? This is what the Franklin Method teaches: how to use imagery (what is focused on) to improve what is being done—and often that imagery is functional anatomy. It’s an approach that shifts from “fixing” what’s happening in our minds and bodies to actually “seeing” what’s happening in our minds and bodies.

Yoga is about you finding you. It is inherently an adaptive, personal, and subjective practice. Let’s learn how to help others find themselves, whether it is through the lens of the pelvic anatomy or the lens of the entire skeletal and muscular systems. We can learn to hold the space, offer ideas, and then get out of the way (in the most supportive way possible) to allow our students the possibility of being rather than doing.

You see the issue.

It’s a paradigm shift, and, like I said before, I miss the days of having my handful of cues for each pose. It is far harder to teach people to see in a different way—to focus on their humero-scapular rhythm or to imagine their arms are light as balloons rather than to instruct how to simply achieve a certain position. Yet, teaching others to seek for an improved experience will change lives, and it will change the world. That may seem exaggerated, but teaching a student to trust you to know how they should move doesn’t actually teach them anything. Offering information and space for people to experience union and awe for the way the body is designed, their body—that will teach them the world.

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