How not to give variations in a yoga class

When you teach yoga, there are multiple ways of thinking about variations to postures.

Is a pose complete at a certain point? Does it fail if it does not reach that point?

It is quite common for teachers to say something like, “if you can’t do X, then do Y”. Embedded in this instruction, are the words, “CAN’T DO” , which unfortunately, also gets registered subconsciously.

Because of the way our minds sort for patterns, beginners in particular will tend to think of poses as an ‘either/or’ category which means they think they either ‘can’ or ‘can not’. But a pose is not an on-off switch. It is a continuum along a scale. Every pose is made up of small units of movement. 9 times out of 10 it is a lack of awareness on how to use the body which gets generalized in to “I CAN’T”. The instruction for variation given in this way reinforces this kind of thinking, both in your students AND in the way you sort for patterns as a teacher.

I look for what a student CAN do. Often times this involves hovering with a student to get every related muscle to activate. To get that one centimeter of change, part by part. The sum total of the changes often ends up surprising their notions of what they thought was possible.

So first put on your own perceptual filter that your student CAN DO. They can put their hand on the block. They could probably protract their shoulder just a bit further. They might be able to rotate their hips just two centimeters more.

Using this approach I’ve surprised people many times with what they didn’t know was possible. Here is one of my student’s who, just a day before said, “I’m not a backbend person” only to discover, that when she chunked the skill down far enough, turns out to have a beautiful pigeon pose!