Are you curious about balancing your brain? Do you enjoy taking yoga classes, when you’re not teaching? Do you find your instructor “brain” talking to you, even when you’re in a student role? Many sources that I’ve encountered affirm that taking class can greatly expand your skills as an instructor. You can learn new ways to enter into postures, helpful accommodations for certain types of students, and more. On the other hand, not allowing yourself to sometimes be a student can limit your abilities to understand your students’ experiences in class, and to otherwise develop as a yoga practitioner. Like many aspects of being a yoga instructor, it’s a fine balance that we learn to more skillfully walk with time, experience, and engaging with those in our yoga communities.
This dynamic has been on my mind at different points ever since a few years ago, when I took a class at a YMCA I was then teaching at. I truly enjoyed taking it every week, and found myself learning immense amounts as both an instructor and practitioner. The lines between those two roles began to blur for me, however, when the instructor (whom I looked up to highly) gave me a physical adjustment in a posture and added, “They’re watching you!” (Meaning my fellow students). I briefly described the situation on social media that night, and added, “So I’m teaching even when I’m not?” – halfway joking, halfway annoyed.
Since then, I believe that I have been more able to bounce back and forth between thinking as an instructor and thinking as a student when I take class. Sometimes the lines do blur in ways that we can’t control, but it is nevertheless useful – even important – to regard how we balance being ourselves as instructors and ourselves as students when we take class.
To enhance our skills as instructors through taking other instructors’ classes, it does take – for most people – mindful observation and active mental dialogue. For instance, we can hear a certain cue and regard it as smart, funny, inspiring, et cetera. Most of us do need to make a mental note of the style of the cue in order to incorporate some version of it that is our own, as is appropriate in our classes. We of course want to avoid outright stealing of other instructors’ intellectual property. If we do repeat something we learned from another instructor, that is not sufficiently adapted as our own, we should credit the instructor (or at least acknowledge that we heard it elsewhere) to our students.
Or, more qualitative aspects can strike us as something to take note of and bring into our own instruction. For instance, in one class that I took, the slow and mindful way that a certain instructor came into physical cueing truly caught my attention. I made a challenge for myself to try to enter into physical cueing with more of that sustained and mindful approach. I believe that I have made some progress on that self-imposed challenge. In any case, we have much to gain as instructors by taking other instructors’ classes – but achieving that most often requires active observation, listening, and internal dialogue.
On the other hand, sometimes we can absorb things as students that contribute to our growths as instructors without meaning to. On the whole, I’d say that my instruction has many elements of how my former teachers taught me and fellow students in my classes – much of that unintentional on my part. In that way, we can learn as instructors by being students. We can allow ourselves to sometimes just be students – to not have to be “working”, so to speak, as instructors. Doing so can also help us to more often experience what it’s like to be a yoga student, similar to those in our own classes. Furthermore, never experiencing that can distance us from our students – us as teachers, and them as students.
We all, always, have more to learn about the ancient science of holistic wellness that is yoga. Keeping ourselves in the receptive, humble posture of a student can keep us open to learning from our own students (which, I’m sure, most instructors would confirm does happen for them constantly). All of this considered, it seems clear that it does help us as instructors to sometimes turn on our instructor brains while we take yoga classes – but it’s also essential to sometimes just let ourselves be students. Truly we are, and always will be. Moreover, we most likely became instructors partly because of our respect and love for yoga itself. We owe it to ourselves to stay connected to that joyful awe, of all that yoga is and it can offer, by returning to the context of being a student every so often. That can offer very often needed, and well-deserved, self-care – as well as personal growth and fulfillment.
So, all that being said, how do we balance this tricky dynamic of being instructors and being students while we take classes? One strategy is to let our minds slip in and out of each mindset as it naturally might during any given class. For example, you could be working on responding to an instructor’s verbal or physical cue (working on your own growth as a practitioner). A few minutes later, you could take note of an image from the instructor that you would love to adapt for use in your own classes (working on yourself as an instructor). If you find yourself tending to be in student brain or instructor brain significantly more often than another, you could mindfully work towards trying to bring that into greater balance.
Another strategy would be to use different classes for those separate purposes – developing your personal practice and keeping attuned to the student experience in one class, and intentionally expanding your skills as an instructor (through observation and listening) in another class. Perhaps you notice that you gain more from one instructor as a student, and more as an instructor yourself from a separate class/instructor. In any case, it behooves us as instructors and yoga practitio