There is always so much discussion and reasonings back and forth as to whether to stay on or get off the mat while teaching, and I’m sure this comes as a surprise – I have a LOT to say on this. The bottom line is, when you become a Yoga Teacher, while you are teaching it is not your practice. You are there and present 100% for the people in front of you. While in other fitness disciplines, you can have the best of both worlds: all of Les Mills pre-choreographed programming (except Grit) is set up to give you the teacher a stellar workout while championing and inspiring your class. Old school cardio based classes do it, Zumba and Spinning or Cycling. When you are teaching, you are actually getting a better workout because you can’t just stop and your feeding off the endorphins of coaching. This is amazing and why I still love to teach fitness! Yoga is different. Yoga is very different.
I mentioned in my last post: The Only 3 Things You Need to Be an Amazing Yoga Teacher about the importance of self-practice and the need to have a regular yoga practice outside of teaching whether attending other teacher’s classes or on your own. Without a self-practice you will undoubtedly lose the heart of why you love Yoga in the first place, and your teaching will become a job like any other rather than the calling to share this beautiful and empowering practice that it once was. Trust me, I’ve been there. When you practice with your students, sure you are getting some of the great strength and mobility work, but you are definitely not working with proper yoga breathing – you are talking too much for this to happen. When you are teaching you are not practicing, bottom line.
For the benefit of your students, there are a few other reasons you need to get off your mat. Yoga poses and flows are designed for you to be looking in all different directions to keep your head in line with your spine. Often, in trying to keep your eyes on your class you compromise your own alignment by craning your neck to check in, or potentially worse compromise their safety by not looking at them and potentially not seeing misalignments that can cause injury. There is also something so beautiful that happens between you and your students when you stop moving and just watch them in their flows. First of all, they don’t just stop, but keep going as you continue to cue the next transition and the little nuances in between. But you also get to see the real impact that you have on your class when they begin to close their eyes and connect within. When they adjust with little micro movements so the poses feel better in their own bodies, and when they look to you and smile and Yoga is suddenly experienced on a deeper level. You can also see what they need in their practice that day regardless of what you have prepared and quickly adjust.
When you stay on your mat, your class unconsciously follows you from pose to pose. They don’t have to think as much about what they are doing they just have to mimic what you are doing. Is that what you really want as a teacher? Sure, in the beginning it’s more challenging to not do every pose with your class, especially if you are teaching in a fitness environment where the students are used to following, but I promise it doesn’t take long and your students will thank you for it. Yes, you do need to provide visual cues in particular when setting up new poses or transitions, but this can also be done in any spot in the room. (and yes, please make sure you are warmed up for what you are demonstrating) Newer students will check beside them if they aren’t sure, you’ll also be able to quickly spot your students that need a little extra attention and you’ll anticipate this by being close to them when needed. It’s amazing what you see when you focus entirely on your class.
Getting off the mat is hard I know but try a little first. Find a few poses that you are comfortable with and start there. Your class might be a bit confused in the beginning, but it won’t last, or better yet let them know you will be walking around a bit. New teachers, if you rely on doing the poses so you know what to cue, do your due diligence at home and study the poses so the cues are top of mind. Your students will also show you what needs to be said by way of common misalignments that you will quickly see. Getting off your mat will change you as a teacher. It will increase your confidence, reduce your energy output (very important for full-time teachers!) and make you feel more connected to your students. I hope this has inspired you to take the plunge..
Please share your questions and comments below. What has been your experience so far teaching off your mat?