Whack a Mole

By Susi Hately, B.Sc. Kinesiology, C-IAYT Yoga Therapist

(courtesy of Google Images)
(courtesy of Google Images)

As a yoga teacher, have you ever had the following experience as you taught yoga to a private student or group?

A Yoga Teacher sees their student in Downward Facing Dog, and their palms aren’t flat on the floor, and the weight is shifted to the lateral side of the hand. They cue the student to bring the palms to the floor. When the student does this, their head lifts up, so the teacher asks the student to bring the head down, which follows with the student’s ribs flaring. The teacher, again cues the student to bring the ribs in and the back rounds, and after the teacher asks or adjusts the student to lengthen their spine, the palms lift up. While this may be amusing to read, this veritable game of ‘whack a mole’ leads the teacher to wo

nder, “why on earth are the cues offered not working?”

Many times when I meet these teachers they are in a state of resignation which ranges from “the students don’t have body awareness, so I can only take them so far” to “I am done with yoga, I can’t make a difference”, to maybe even “I suck as a teacher”.

How is this situation resolved?

Provide Alignment Cues At the Right Time: The biggest and most influential consideration is if you are providing alignment cues or adjustments after the student has come into the pose. If you are, it is too late. The student has already compensated their way out of alignment, and adjusting them after the fact, will only cause more compensation. The key is to notice the compensation when it occurs and make the appropriate adjustments at that time, even if it means stopping the movement and starting again.

Watch Your Student’s Actual Movement: Consider how you are watching your students. Oftentimes, the focus is on the end result, which is what leads to “whack a mole”. Watch your student as they move into the pose. Using the example of Downward Facing Dog above, notice where and when the weight shift of the hands happens. It likely didn’t happen at the end position, rather it happened on the way to the end position. If you can bring awareness earlier in the movement, your student’s pace of progress will improve dramatically.

Understand Your Student’s True Capability and Build From There: This last point might not be well received by some. Consider that most yoga poses, while super cool and fun, are inaccessible to most yoga students. Most yoga students do not have the mobility, stability, strength, nor the control or coordination to be able to move many of the quintessential yoga poses (hence the Downward Facing Dog dilemma above). They can compensate well to get into the pose, but that level of compensation isn’t really serving them, it isn’t building their core, it isn’t helping them to release tissue, or become stronger,and in many cases is setting them up for getting tighter and experiencing tension or injury.

All is not lost. Once you shift the way that you are seeing, and what you are focusing on, the changes in your practice – whether as a teacher or student – will blow your mind. Tightness and injury created by your practice will be a thing of the past, and suppleness and ease will grow.

Would you like more? If you would like to raise your game and to learn to be a teacher who can improve your students awareness of their body and make a lasting impact on their health and wellbeing, consider the I Love Anatomy Online Training in February. Early bird registration is on until December 31, 2016. To register, click this link –  https://www.functionalsynergy.com/product/love-anatomy-feb-2017/

Happy Exploring,