Teaching Like a Yoga Teacher

“Find a place that you can relax your head down so we can shake out any residual from the day…

Make your way onto a flat back with your hands up on your thighs or shins. Maybe you use a block if you can’t reach the floor. A little weight forward towards the balls of the feet. Engage the core. Roll your shoulderblades together and down the back and then come to forward fold. Very nice.

Come into either a squat or a modified squat. Keep your knees as wide as you need. Turn your toes out if you choose. You might have forearms on thighs. Some of you might go all the way down. Option to let your head go down, hands can drape in front of you or reach forward a little bit. If this squat feels like too mcuh, you might sit on 1 or 2 blocks or a stool or a chair. Stay active in your feet. Ground down. Take another deep breath. When you’re ready, use your hands to help you come back up.”

How could we make teaching more like a yoga class?

I could see this fairly easily in secondary, where we make expectations really clear, name the non negotiables. and then offer students some choice in their adaptations. But how do we do this in elementary?

Just search Traits of a Good Yoga Teacher and you will find ample lists of really wonderful characterstics. “Let your authentic personality shine through.” “Love what you do.” “Leave your ego at the door.” “Connect with everyone in the class.” My personal favorite: “They have a way with words.”

They also have ones that are less hippie dippie. “They are prepared.” “They gain trust.” “They share their knowledge.” I would argue all of these pertain to teaching small children how to read.

Meanwhile Hattie, the god-father of effect sizes in education, identifies his verbose characteristics for great teaching. “Collective teacher efficacy.” “Teacher estimates of achievement.” “Cognitive task analysis.”

Teaching is s science. It is also a personality trait. It is also a craft. I think a fun activity would be to argue which college education should actually be housed under. Perhaps we should get a Bachelor of Science in Education, or a Master of the Fine Art of Education. How would this shape society’s perception of our profession?

I digress.

Here’s what I’ve observed in my 17 years taking yoga. A great teacher lets you know where you’re going and then offers you the alternatives so you learn to do what’s right for you to get there. Along your learning journey, they adjust your pose so you can FEEL what the outcome feels like. And then they back away for you to figure out how to get back there again next time. A great yoga teacher allows time to pause and reflect regularly during the class. A great yoga teacher reads the room and is aware in EACH class of their students’ body’s needs (a shoulder injury, a tweaked muscle, a rough day) and they adjust accordingly on the fly. A great teacher teaches you how your body works, so you can ultimately be your own yoga teacher. A great yoga teacher does not approach class as a one-size-fits-all.

Krama. I’m not going to be able to define it fully because to do so, you would need to experience it. It is a set up, a progression which prepares you for your destination. Krama is the planning of poses which make the final, hardest pose, possible. Krama is intentional, it is skillful, it is a no brainer in the athletic world. Krama is something we should be talking about in education.

When offering Number Talks trainings I often quip, “If you could learn to teach every lesson like a number string, entirely low floor, high cieling, you would be the greatest teacher there ever was. But it’s impossible to teach every class like that.” Just imagine being a student and *knowing* that in math class today, I am going to understand what my teacher is teaching me. *Knowing* that yes, I will be successful today, that I will walk out feeling better in my body & brain because the teacher led me through a series of steps which led me to the intended outcome. And I will *know* that I made it to the intended outcome, because not only was it made clear to me, but it also felt right. Imagine feeling like that as a student EVERY. DAMN. DAY.

So… what can we learn from yoga teachers?

One thought on “Teaching Like a Yoga Teacher

  1. I use the “yoga block” analogy for my students a lot. I tell them that sometimes you’re ready for the most challenging exercise, and sometimes you need some assistance, and both are okay (as is anything in between).
    Then I give them sentence starters (or some other kind of assist) and tell them they can choose to use it if they need it or not.


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