I was talking to a woman about teaching yoga about a month ago. We were discussing different ways of teaching, and she pointed out how much she likes traditional teaching versus those that add abdominal work or extra chaturanga pushups to their sequence. I have found this argument many times, traditional vs. dynamic, strengthening movement. So here are my thoughts…
My background with yoga thus far:
My yoga practice first truly kicked off when I started taking Hot Yoga at Hot Asana in Wichita, KS when I was in college. There, the teachers taught fast paced classes and added dynamic movement to strengthen muscles for the particular poses or inversions being worked on in that class. When I started yoga teacher training at KC Yoga Kula, my teacher was very traditional. During that time, I also took from an ashtanga teacher in KC and attended traditional 6am Mysore classes. I’ve taken yoga at gyms and studios, and have participated in a variety of classes ranging from ariel yoga, to hot yoga, yin yoga, restorative yoga, kundalini, ashtanga, and more… But first, let’s clear up some of my personal beliefs in teaching yoga.
My personal views on teaching yoga:
- Know your audience/students: who are you teaching? are they beginners, intermediate, or advanced? Are you teaching at a studio or a fitness center?
- Stick with the style of class you were given to teach: If your class is titled “Gentle Yoga”, then stick to that. Don’t make a gentle yoga class fast paced and strenuous (even if a member/student asks you to). Stick to your guns!
- Find your voice: What do you have to say?? What’s your message? Don’t try to be like your teachers, Iyengar, or Buddha. Your students want to hear what you have to say, they want your inspiration. Be you and be authentic.
- Interest: Develop personal relationships with those that attend your classes. Express interest in your students and ask what they need from today’s practice. Ask them about life and how they are doing. Ask them about their yoga background. Be curios, interested, authentic, and caring.
- Find your tribe: who cares if Sally did not like your class. You’re doing this for the regulars, the die hards that come and enjoy your class on a weekly/daily basis. You’re teaching for your tribe, or those that enjoy and see all the benefit from your classes.
- Be Adaptable: This also goes along with knowing your audience. You have to be able to scan the room and see who showed up and what their capabilities might be. You might have to change your practice last minute and that’s okay. However, you can not be unwilling to adapt to who’s in the room and what they need. Things happen and you must adapt to them to create balance.
The ultimate argument: Dynamic Movement VS. Traditional Teachings/Technique:
My personal beliefs are that each have value. I feel that adding dynamic movement (i.e. malasana squats, extra chaturanga pushups, different abdominal exercises, etc.) strengthens the body for poses. Average people do not have the core strength for crow pose. Average people do not have the shoulder strength for handstand. This is not a bad thing, they’re just facts. So how do we strengthen the body for those particular poses?? Dynamic movement. Shoulder shrugs on blocks is a great way to strengthen arms, shoulders, and core which all tie into crow pose, handstands, headstands, and more. Dynamic movement is also a great way to warm the body. Don’t get me wrong, there is importance in traditional teachings/techniques, however, the average person is not Iyengar, therefore, their bodies will not build strength the way his did.
I teach at a gym, so yes, I add a lot of dynamic movement to my sequences. Why?? Because check out my audience/students. They come to a gym, a fitness center. 90% of them are here not for traditional teachings and Sanskrit, but they are here to get fit and build strength. Dynamic movement can help someone figure out how to activate their inner thigh to stabilize half moon. It can help someone gain enough strength to do a chaturanga. It can help strengthen the inner and outer thighs to keep the knee from drifting inward on warrior II. Dynamic movement can help with so much strength and alignment. Traditional teachings on the other hand, can teach foundation and philosophy. They can teach patience, spirituality, ethics, and alignment. Traditional teachings can teach structure, flexibility, and warmth.
When to use dynamic movements:
Always base the decision to add dynamic movement based on the style of class you are teaching. I usually use dynamic movement in hot yoga, yoga flow, or vinyasa style classes. I stick to traditional teachings/techniques for classes like yoga basics, chair yoga, and gentle yoga. However, for classes labeled as “yoga” I always scan the room and base the decision off of who showed up for class. For example, I would not use dynamic movement if it looked like my class was tired or if anyone had mobility issues. So this circles back to knowing your students. See who shows up and gage their mood, range of mobility, etc. If a class is just a regular yoga class, then I will use more simple dynamic movement to help strengthen muscles for certain poses and alignment.
I hope this small blog entry helped you gain understanding in both sides of a controversial topic in the yoga community. I hope you were able to see both sides, and maybe even try to use each one in your practice. My intention was to bring knowledge to both sides so that we can all see good in each teaching, and most importantly, stop judging based on what one prefers/teaches. Be intuitive, be adaptable, be authentic, and be passionate, you can’t go wrong when you embody these principles..