To Lead or To Teach?
by Wendy Garafalo on August 12th, 2015

Are you a teacher or a leader?
Last weekend a student asked my opinion on what makes a good yoga instructor.  I explained to her, that I  believe there is a difference in yoga instructors in a class setting, either they lead or they teach.  We all have different ways we like to learn things, and different methods of yoga we prefer to learn from.  For me personally, when It comes to yoga in a class setting, I teach rather than lead.  I think of a leader as someone who has a vision,  a plan, and recruits people to follow him/her.  Most of the followers who truly believe in the vision, follow unquestioningly.  Yoga instructors who are leaders, stand in front of the class and generally do the majority of the class with their students.  I’m not saying this is bad or good, just a way of leading a group thru yoga.  They lead, students follow.  There is generally a script and a certain sequence that is followed. 

My method, the way I’ve been taught as a yoga instructor is to teach.  I rarely do any of the poses in class.  I use my voice to align bodies, to change placement of feet, legs, hips and arms.  My eyes search the room to ensure what I’m saying is being understood and to check the safety of all my students.  If it’s not understood, I change my words, I go about it a different way.  My goal is to teach you something new about your body, a new way to feel, to move, to engage.  In doing so, I’m trying to get you out of your mind and out of your habits. 
Every class I teach has a theme, something physically, mentally and spiritually I’m trying to implement.  If what I’m trying to teach you physically isn’t making sense, chances are you won’t understand the mental or spiritual aspects I’m trying to teach either.  So, my teaching is alignment based, we work the physical body first, to give you a new way to engage muscles in your body.  Then, I layer in the spiritual elements that mimic the physical lessons you are learning.  It’s like a multi-layered cake, we start with the base, we add a little sweat, a little sweetness.  Then another layer is piled on top of that, and another, until finally you can sink your teeth into the sweetness of the ‘lesson’.  Swallow it, digest it, take it home, think about it and let it slowly begin to shift your perspective.   

For example, I teach engaging the core, the rectus abdominus (six-pack muscle) to be exact, by cueing lift the pubic bone up toward the sternum bone.  After we work that physically in several postures, like plank, or backbends, then I talk about the energy that lives in those areas and how important it is to ‘lift’ energy into the heart (pubic bone to sternum).  Then I encourage you to ask yourself ‘how does whatever situation I’m facing in my life make me feel?  Does it increase my capacity to love?’  If the answer is no, is there a way to shift the perspective and find a way to love it, to forgive it?  If not, let it go.  Thus, we begin to shift what we are doing physically to more mental and spiritual understandings. 

My goal as a teacher is to TEACH you something new and to awaken within you that which you already know.  To remind you of who you really are and what really matters in this world.  To let you LEAD your own life and be true to YOU.  I want to help you appreciate your life, to love your messy moments and to embrace the journey exactly as it exists.   May you find your own teacher to connect with, whatever method they use.  May their method serve your highest self and may you let yoga do what it’s meant to do.  Namaste.  ~Wendy Garafalo

To learn more about how to include spiritual elements in a yoga class, or in your life, join me for one of my favorite workshops:  “The Spiritual Side of Teaching” @ The Green Yogi in Manhattan Beach, Saturday Aug. 29 from 4-6pm

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Jocelyn - August 13th, 2015 at 1:41 PM
I am blessed to have crossed your path. How conscious and courageously deliberate you are in your teaching; truly giving. Thank you for the continued lessons. Thank you for being a beautiful example of love and how you share your gifts. You are a gift to this world!
- August 17th, 2015 at 2:57 PM
Thank you Jocelyn!
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