8: The Case for Teaching Without Demonstrating

When you teach yoga classes {group or private} how much are you demonstrating poses? If you have been hanging out in my world for a while you may know that I mostly advocate for a style of teaching that relies on language to convey important information, including subtle movements, instead of relying on the use of our body to teach.

Do I think demonstrating a physical concept is always bad? Of course not!

Are there sometimes totally valid reasons to use your own body, or another student’s body, to clarify a movement concept. Absolutely!

I also think that teaching without demonstrating is an extremely important skill to cultivate and I want to tell you why!

In this episode I’ll cover:

  • Some of the reasons, both conscious and unconscious, that teachers prefer to demonstrate when they teach asana.
  • The many benefits for you and your students of teaching without demonstrating.
  • Why teaching our students to connect language and movement is a worthwhile endeavor.
  • Tools and practices to help you use your voice more often in your yoga teaching and your body less.
  • In the spirit of Shades of Grey, some of the good reasons I see TO demonstrate or practice with our students.

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19 Responses to “8: The Case for Teaching Without Demonstrating”

  1. Linda

    Love this podcast, thank you so much for sharing your valuable experience.
    Very helpful for a newbie to teaching.

    Reply
  2. Jen

    Hi Francesca, you bring up some really valuable points in this podcast. This is an idea I have been thinking about lately. I do happen to move a lot with the class and walk around when the movement becomes slower. I think part of the reason for me is that it reminds me on what to cue because I feel it in my own body. Like you, I teach a lot of out of the box type of stuff so I get a lot of “deer in the headlight looks” which is a little awkward. Finally, I think the other reason I tend to move a lot with the class is that I change my class every week, so it helps if I do it to remember what comes next! 🙂 Not trying to justify, just thinking through all your points and how I can begin to change things a bit. I am going to audio record my next class…EEK! Keep the great podcast comin’ with all your stellar guests…your recent episode with Jules Mitchell was especially awesome!

    Reply
    • Francesca Cervero

      Hi Jen! Thanks so much for sharing yours thoughts and comments here, and thank you for all the great work you are doing in the world! Good luck with the audio recording! I’d love to hear what comes up for you as you listen to your class. xo

      Reply
    • lisa galizia

      Love these podcasts! I feel a lot of the same things when I teach. I agree that by feeling the pose myself helps me to come up with cues and modifications..some of the language I use is based on how my body is feeling such as …soften the face relax the jaw…

      Reply
    • Teri

      Yes same for me. I’m the kind of learner that does best WHILE doing, whether it’s playing a board game or yoga so it’s a challenge for me to break the habit. Once I had all my students do our practice with eyes closed or blindfolds ( haha..I made sure it was poses that didn’t need seeing) and I just taught through my vocal cues and they did awesome and I did better. It must have something to do with people looking at me haha! So…I’m looking fwd to continue growing. Thanks for your information. I’m excited to grow in this . It will be good to have more balance in it.

      Reply
      • Francesca Cervero

        Yes, good luck with this Teri! I know it is a very different way of teaching than many people are used to, but it is definitely a good skill to have access to. Let me know how it goes!

  3. lisa galizia

    Hi Francesca!
    Thank you for your amazing wisdom. I have learned so much from your podcasts and classes. I think a combo of demonstrating and cues works well for people that need a visual combined with time in the class where the teacher isn’t talking..the need to pause and go inside is easier without too much verbal ….

    Reply
    • Francesca Cervero

      Hi Lisa! I am so glad you are enjoying the podcasts and feel that are giving you new ways to think about things. Thanks for being here, I appreciate your presence. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Janie Ganga

    Always love this topic! So many layers. One major reason I demonstrate is for Chair Yoga — my classes either have major hearing & cognition limitations — so they have to see it — or it’s a small class and most of the movements are similar to the Om Yoga movements of the Spine you described — so I’m attuning to the students for the whole hour.

    On a general level, I would say that I don’t demonstrate that much — because I was Amrit trained and we are taught to use the consistent Script cues so students can follow the simple instructions, allowing them to go inward rather than looking at anyone else’s body (even their own). But then when I reflect a little deeper, I realize there are certain movements I almost never teach without doing them — in particular, things that aren’t poses, or poses that move, or something that I’ve “discovered” in my own body — so there is no “script.” And also while listening, I became aware that I sometimes briefly demonstrate a movement or body orientation to save time (meaning an opportunity to work with my own patience) or because I’m feeling less energized — and I might be forgetting the deeper and longer-term benefit of hanging in there through the awkwardness.

    Thank you as always. Your reflections are so deeply valuable!!!!! <3

    Reply
    • Francesca Cervero

      I LOVE hearing your reflections Janie! It is so important to stay curious about what we are doing and why, AND to make sure that we don’t use it as an opportunity to be hard on ourselves but to meet what is arising with interest and tenderness. <3

      Reply
  5. Kristen

    Hi Francesca,
    This was a really beautiful and well articulated podcast. I’m a relatively new YT and I do mostly private sessions. I did some demonstrating in the beginning but I try to opt out of that as much as I can because I found that people were more concerned about trying to replicate what I was doing. Some would comment that they’re trying to do it “right” or go deeper than they could/should. This was not at all what I wanted them to be focusing on. I wanted them to feel the pose in their own body and rely on their own personal experience and sensations to guide them rather than, as you said, to simply mimic a shape.
    Additionally, I work with people with, or recovering from, eating disorders. A connection to body is paramount for them so I often will have them close their eyes and follow my direction without them having to worry about “proper” form based on eating-disordered eyes that may be seeing through a distorted lens. It helps create a deeper mind-body connection.
    I often doubt what I do (beginning teaching nerves 😉 so I’m really grateful to hear that my ideas and thoughts aren’t so “out there” and obscure.
    Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    • Francesca Cervero

      Hi Kristen! You are doing such important work, your students are lucky to have you. Your ideas aren’t “out there” at all…you are just a thoughtful and caring teacher! I am so happy to be able to support you on your path… don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything. ❤️

      Reply
  6. Sully

    Hi Francesca,
    Thanks for yet another inspiring episode of your podcast. I know it’s an old episode but only came across it recently.
    I demo quite a lot in my classes but I tend to do one side and then walk the room while students do the other side. I get your point and it’s a very valuable one. However, I feel that if you don’t demo at all you would have to talk all the time and this might be very distractive for some students and ruin their experience.
    I know that when I attend a class with a teacher I don’t know I get put off if they talk too much, it’s stressful to have their voice in my head for 60minutes. I guess the key is to find the balance between demoing the whole class and not even having a mat for yourself.
    Thanks for your inspiring work xx

    Reply
    • Francesca Cervero

      You are so welcome Sully! I’m so happy to be asking these questions together 🙂 I know what you mean about teachers who talk constantly; I don’t love that either. I personally don’t find that I have to talk constantly when teach…I try to say just what is needed and then be quiet! If you play with a little less demo-ing I’d love to hear how it feels for you. Sending love… <3

      Reply
  7. Jessika

    I’ve been wanting to become better at this way of teaching! Thanks for the suggestions of how to get started. It will be tricky to re-train students but in this new virtual environment i think it’s a great opportunity for change, when there is already change! I think I’m afraid I’ll lose my sequence. I rely heavily on my body to offer me feedback on what feels good that day/evening or to tune into the energy of the day and for the sequence. People have always said they love the creativity of my classes and the unpredictable nature of my sequences. And they also feedback saying it’s as if I can read their mind offering cues on exactly what they’re feeling in their body. Because of this I kept teaching the way i was even tho inside I felt some guilt. Like you said is it my crutch? Do I need me body too much?
    Recently I moved away from the community where I had studios for nearly 8 years and took a 8 month teaching hiatus. Now in this time of Corona I’ve decided to begin teaching online and many of former clients are so excited. I guess this is my opportunity to change my ways. I lie the idea of starting together- establishing the collective-maybe just doing the breathing and few warm-up movements together and then I will move back to the screen and watch with my words. Thanks for all the suggestions.

    Reply
    • Francesca Cervero

      You are so welcome Jessika! I am cheering you on from the sidelines! I bet your old students are so excited that get to practice with you again, what a treat for them. My guess is that your creative sequences and spot-on cueing will only get better when you start watching your students more. Let me know how it goes!

      Reply

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