You would think that’s a no-brainer. Of course the goal is to be a good and therefore popular teacher. Well, it’s not that straightforward.
In the old days (right, this sounds like I’m 80 years old, complaining about today’s youth – but I’ll get there), students of Yoga used to stay at ashrams to be introduced to the science. Because that’s what it was. A science, a philosophy, a way of life. Nothing you squeezed in between your 10hrs working day, getting the groceries and cooking back home. This was 24/7, total immersion. It’s called the Gurukula system and can still be experienced for a limited period of time by anyone who wants to make the effort to try it out. It means students live, work and study with their teachers (Guru = teacher, kula = home). Traditionally, students would arrive when they were about 8 years old and remain for about 12 years.
You were not there to enjoy yourself. This was no holiday. Apart from studying the scriptures, the philosophy, and of course the more practical aspects of yoga such as asanas and pranayama, students would be expected to help out with whatever was required. No matter what. This could be chopping wood or tending the cattle, anything really. This wasn’t because they were always short of people helping out. It was part of the system and a crucial part of what the student learnt during his (there was no her at the time, I’m afraid…) stay at the ashram. It was an environment of learning and study, not a holiday camp. If students had expectations at all, then they were hoping to grow spiritually and to advance with the practice. They certainly didn’t expect to be entertained.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s an awful lot of very committed, hard-working practitioners who roll out their mat diligently every day before sunrise. Who understand Yoga as a way of life. Who are inspired and who manage to inspire. And I cannot even count all the wonderful teachers I had the honour of practising with. But (there had to be a but, right?) – even though numerous, these Yogis are just a small part of the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people who practise Yoga out there.
If we believe in the majority being always right, a Yoga class has to be as follows:
First of all, it has to be entertaining. No one comes to be bored – we were bored enough all day staring at our screens, so now we’d like some fun, please! It should be challenging, but just so much that it makes us feel good (a feeling of “failure”, whatever that means, is real bad…). We want to have big, shiny mirrors to observe ourselves (and others!!) in class. We want to admire our muscles, want to see how much weight we’ve lost since last time we practised. It’s of course important to be in the first row, so that everyone can see how greatly we perform.
So what’s the role of the teacher in this scenario? Well, first of all, to provide the right setting. To dim the lights (don’t we all know how nasty we look in this bright changing room-type of lights?), put some incense, and most importantly, have the right music ready. Everything goes, some Indian chants, Rock, Techno, Trance, R&B – as long as it’s not boring. A good teacher has an endless number of playlists on his or her i-pod. As a teacher, once the music starts, you can add more energy to the class by putting the volume up and shout encouraging sound bites such as yeah, keep going, one more time, you look wonderful etc.
Apart from that, you don’t have to do much, except looking great and wear the right clothes (students need to aspire to something, right?). Corrections? Adjustments? Well, it would only make them feel bad, and that’s not the point of this class, isn’t it? You want your students to feel great, to encourage them. Focus on the good things, on the fun things, and forget about that nasty business of telling people that they’re doing it wrong. Give them 1.5hrs entertainment, and they will LOVE you. (But don’t be surprised if half the class is leaving during Savasana, not really seeing the point – they’re not paying to do nothing, after all.)
Namaste and happy teachings 😉
P.S. Just as a sort of contrast to the class outlined above, two classics from Youtube: