A few weeks ago, I strained my left hamstring while demonstrating Hanumanasana (splits) in class for my students. Ouch. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of pulling or tearing a hamstring, then you know that this kind of injury takes forever to heal. The last time I did this, it took about 3 or 4 months for it to be really all better.
It’s been about a month now since this happened, and I’ve only recently come to accept that I’m going to have to modify my own practice, as well as the way I teach, in order to allow this injury to heal. Also, this injury has got me thinking lately about what, and how much, I should be demonstrating in class as a teacher. One of the problems with demonstrating asanas in class is that, as a teacher, you tend not to be nearly as warmed up as your students. So, at any given moment, your body is less prepared to go into the very same poses that you’re telling your students to go into. On the one hand, you don’t want to look silly as a teacher by not doing anything at all, but, on the other hand, you also don’t want to injure yourself by doing what I did — i.e. doing something that your body is not warmed up to do.
In the past, I’ve taken some very good yoga classes with teachers who didn’t demonstrate a single asana the entire class. At first, this struck me as kind of weird, but there are actually a lot of benefits to this. First, it helps the students to become self-reliant and more aware of the poses. It also helps the student to learn the names of the poses. Instead of just mimicking your every movement, the student has to think for himself/herself about how to get into the pose if you are not demonstrating it at the front of the room. This is beneficial on so many levels, I think, and it helps the students take the first step towards developing a self-practice by not being so reliant on the teacher.
So my new attitude towards demonstrating asanas as a teacher is to err on the side of caution, and, whenever possible, have one of my students demonstrate for me. Also, having a student demonstrate a pose encourages that student and, I’ve found, gives the student a sense of accompishment when he/she is being used as the demonstration model for an asana. Of course, it’s probably a good idea to ask the student quietly first if he/she wants to demonstrate, because I’ve definitely seen some people totally freeze up and even turn beet red when the entire class is staring suddenly and unexpectedly.
I’m sure some people will think I’m being lazy as a teacher if they notice that I’m not demonstrating a lot of poses anymore, but, as I’m learning, there are other effective, possibly even more effective, ways of teaching a yoga class than simply being a yoga monkey for everyone to imitate.