Teaching Hatha Yoga: What do Students Want?

///Teaching Hatha Yoga: What do Students Want?

Teaching Hatha Yoga: What do Students Want?

yoga teacherBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

At this point in time, Yoga has gone “global.” Most students, outside of India, have heard of three of the nine main types of Yoga; the most commonly known are Hatha, Raja (Ashtanga), and Kundalini Yoga. Of these three, Hatha and its many sub-styles, have received the most publicity.

In general, the public perception of Yoga is classified as a “mind and body exercise.” When you ask the average person what that means, he or she will respond by saying, “Some sort of exercise.” Hence, the reason why Yoga can be found in many health clubs is that Yoga becomes an exercise class, which is categorized with Tai Chi and Pilates.

With that said, beginner students, with little knowledge of Yoga, have the perception they are entering an exercise class. Their reasons for coming to a class differ greatly. The main reasons for beginning Yoga practice are: Weight loss, weight control, stress management, low impact exercise, or pain management.

Notice that beginners do not often seek enlightenment, meditation, mantras, Pranayama, or to change their lifestyle. In fact, the classification of Yoga levels is easy to understand, but it is inaccurate. Terms such as, beginner, intermediate, and advanced, are all based upon the physical difficulty of performing an asana. Again, the physical challenges are presented as the major aspects of Yoga training.

So, what do Hatha Yoga students want? To put it simply, they want some sort of mind and body exercise. Beginner classes could be presented as a Yogic exercise class, with much more to learn on the horizon. To guide beginner students on the path toward the study of yama, niyama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi, is a lesson in futility.

Many beginning students do not know what they are looking for. Most beginning students do not want to hold asanas for long. They are so used to stimulation from technology, that short attention spans are common place. This is why flowing, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga, are so popular with beginners. To ask them to practice pranayama and meditation is a big challenge. This would require the mind to focus.

There is an old sales and marketing saying which goes like this: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Let’s look at the old saying and how it pertains to teaching classes. After 5,000 years of research, Yogic methodology is a very deep subject, which cannot be covered in one class. If a student enters your class, or studio, looking for fitness – So be it.

Label a few Yoga classes on the schedule as: Beginner fitness, fitness, or exercise. Start with warm-ups, teach Yoga postures, mix in a few breathing techniques, and end with a five minute body scan relaxation technique. On your schedule, write descriptions of all your classes, and give them options to go deeper into the subject of Yoga.

The more serious students will take the path to study more about yama, niyama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi, but there some who will choose to exercise the body, only. This is not a problem. Remember this: A little bit of Yoga is better than none.

When teaching classes to the public, there are certain components, which separate some teachers “from the crowd.” Luckily, all of these components can be learned, but what qualities should a Yoga teacher learn to develop? According to one survey, two thirds of all adults had never taken a class.

If we ask the non-participating public to tell us what a good instructor should be, we usually hear answers like: Athletic, thin, vegetarian, flexible, strong, and the ideal body weight. These are good qualities for instructors who teach a physical style of Yoga, but they indicate nothing about their character or ethics.

In fact, an instructor’s mission is to teach us something, in each lesson, which we can take home to improve our health. The teacher’s physical prowess does not teach us anything new; and physical feats are not a reflection of teaching skill. As I have said before, any competent gymnast can perform impressive physical feats. Great coaches do not have to be elite athletes to train successful athletes. The following are some of the most underrated, but important qualities a teacher should possess; and all of them are a reflection of good character.

A Yoga instructor should be a good communicator. Speaking well is important, but communication is a “two way street,” which requires listening skills and exceptional observation skills. This is the teacher who is not afraid to answer questions. He or she also knows when to stop demonstrating and give an assist. Some teachers can project a gentle or silent message, without saying a word. As a student, you can see it in his or her eyes, face, and body language. A teacher who can project kindness and charisma, without saying much is filled with passion.

Charisma is the common denominator among the greatest teachers of all time. Yet, since it is unseen – it is also underrated. A charismatic teacher will establish an ethical rapport with Yoga students as a by-product of his or her personality. Many successful teachers reflect self-confidence without arrogance or self-righteousness. This type of self-confidence is full of positive energy and is easily seen as optimism. This is a practitioner who has learned to transcend fear, look for solutions, and find success.

Some teachers are skilled at instilling the gift of empowerment within their students, which translates into their valuable life skills. Most students want honest feedback and recognition. When an instructor takes the time to remember names, give an honest compliment, make eye contact, and keep a sense of humor, students look forward to each lesson. Although the public is often deceived by superficial viewpoints, and hasty judgment calls; the depth of a teacher’s character is always revealed to the serious student.

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© Copyright 2007 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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