I can’t help it – everywhere I go, I see people with my “yoga-teacher” eyes. The last time I was at the symphony I was thinking – “This conductor has a really poor posture, he could use some Warrior poses.” Whenever I go to the Cirque du Soleil, I think “This sort of contortion is so extreme, she’s going to have some serious pain when she is older.” And pretty much anybody – from the bus driver to the marathon runner – could benefit from the Cobra pose, if you ask me.
This is a habit that I developed from many years of watching my yoga students. Yoga teachers watch their students all the time, not because we are stalkers, but because we can gather an incredible amount of information from the person’s posture, movement patterns and overall body language; and then use that information in the course of the practice.
Observation in a yoga class
You can begin observing your students’ body language and facial expressions from the moment they step into the room. Depending on how well you know your students, you may be able to tell if they’re having some physical issues (from the way they move their feet, hold her arms and shoulders, position their neck), sense their energy (if they feel calm, agitated or dragging) and get a glimpse at their state of mind. An observant yoga teacher uses this information to structure a yoga class in order to help the group move toward the state of balance.
When the students begin to move, you will get even more information about their abilities, weak spots, range of motion, understanding of the poses, general body awareness and so on. This information is essential in deciding on how much to challenge the group, what needs to be modified and who needs help. I love this quote from Kimberly in the comments to my blog: “I watch them [the students] in the first few poses to see where they may be tight or restricted, so I have an idea of what’s up when we go further into the class and the body.” Generally, if the teacher continues to plow through the preexisting class plan without giving consideration to the students that are in front of her, this is a great disservice to the students.
At the end of the class we look for clues about students’ response to the practice – not so much whether they liked it or not, but do they have more spring in their step? Did their energy shift? Do their faces seem more content? We want to see whether or not we’ve managed to manifest the intention that we’ve set for the practice. This is very useful information for the future. Let’s say you wanted to wake them up and give them a bit more energy, but now they are refusing to transition up from Savasana – this is a sign that the practice didn’t quite work. We can try again next time with some modifications.
Observation in a private yoga session
Having strong observation skills is absolutely essential in one-on-one work. If you want to make any sort of meaningful difference in someone’s life, you need to gather as much relevant information about the person as you can. Here’s an example of the things that you can be watching before you even begin the movement part of your session:
Physical: posture, walking pattern, body asymmetries, ease of movement, sitting position, areas of held tension, etc.
Physiological: breathing pattern, overall energy, complexion, etc.
Mental/emotional: mood, ability to focus, speech pattern, etc.
Most of those things we notice subconsciously as we begin to form an image of the person in front of us. It’s super important that this image remains fluid though, so that we don’t pigeonhole the student into some preconceived category. “She is an anxious person” is very different from “She seems anxious today.” Observation is a never-ending process and we need to stay receptive and open to be useful to our students.
One of my favorite things to do is to compare my observations with the way the client feels in her own body. After we talked for a little bit, I usually have her lie on her back and close her eyes. Then I ask her to tell me how her body feels from the feet up, leading with questions like: Compare your right and left foot – are they the same or different? Where are they pointing? Are they equally relaxed? etc. We do the same with knees, hips, lower back, shoulders and head. This type of exploration works great on several levels:
- It’s an excellent exercise in body awareness for the student
- It takes her past being self-conscious about me watching her
- And it gives me information about the areas where her perception of her body varies significantly from what I observe.
I might ask her: “Use your hands to show me where your feet are pointing. Now open your eyes and compare it to your actual foot position.” More often than not I get a surprised gasp because what she was feeling in her body and the way things are is very different.
These kinds of static observations (both in supine and standing positions) are super important when you’re trying to figure out what’s going on in someone’s body. This is the part where you get to play detective and try to make sense out of the clues that the student’s body is presenting to you.
A student’s asymmetries, imbalances and weak areas become even more apparent once she begins to move. The observations you make here help you determine the things that you choose to work on, which tools you use, how to structure your practice and how you teach it to the student. So basically it determines your entire work together.
I remember when I read the Sherlock Holmes stories for the first time, I was fascinated by his ability to notice seemingly unrelated things and draw accurate conclusions from them. And guess what – now I get to do it every day with my students. The only way to sharpen your observation skills is to practice them. And you can do it anywhere, anytime – in a yoga class, at a family gathering or in your favorite coffee shop. However, we have to be careful about HOW we approach this sort of investigation – done incorrectly, it can ruin your relationship with your students, make them feel inadequate, unhappy and defensive (which certainly isn’t our intention). What NOT to do when you observe your students? This will be the topic of our conversation next week – tune in!
Log in to your Sequence Wiz account to get your Static Observation Sheet (under Forms/Handouts) to help you get an idea of what’s going on in your client’s body.
You will also find the Movement Observation Form there to help you evaluate your client’s habitual movement patterns.
Learn more about Sequence Wiz membership
Subscribe to Blog via Email