improve your teaching skills“Pros”, “Cons”, and other Considerations

By Kathryn Boland

Recently while enjoying hot coffee and a good book at a local Panera Bread café, I heard another patron say to his friend (something to the effect of, I’m paraphrasing), “You say you’re in this special area, specifically, and they say ‘You’re the guy for this’. ” His comment got me thinking about being a “specialist” versus being a “generalist” as a yoga instructor. I believe this consideration is an important one in the profession because of yoga’s countless number of “schools” of thought and styles – from Kripalu to Bikram to Viniyoga forms (and that list certainly continues).

We as instructors have realistic limitations on how much knowledge and practical expertise we can obtain and maintain through consistent use (“you don’t use it, you lose it”, the saying goes). On one hand, being well versed in several forms can make an instructor more marketable and helpful to studios, wellness centers, and other yoga-offering institutions; one can therein be flexible in what classes he/she can offer and substitute for (when other instructors cannot teach regular classes). Generally-knowledgeable instructors can also provide individual students with needs perhaps apart from their fellow students – for instance, if a student in an Ashtanga class would benefit from an adaptation from a perhaps milder form such as Svaroopa Yoga.

On the other hand, specializing in a specific form can make instructors more marketable in other ways. As one, yoga institutions might be more intrigued in hiring a candidate who can offer something attractive to their “brands” by offering unique classes in styles that they specialize in. That effect can especially occur if institutions have had students asking for that particular type of class or one of its quality (such as a gentler Yin-style form, or a faster-paced Vinyasa-style class, for example). In another consideration, private students might more likely hire instructors in a well-known and research-verified form, perhaps after medical consultation and/or personal research that have pointed to that form.

I believe that a good balance of “specializing” and “generalizing”, just as with most areas of life, is key. I’m grateful that my instructor training (through Aura Wellness Center, in both 200 and 500-hr levels) and other personal learning opportunities have set me up to have a reasonably good balance in this regard. For instance, in my teaching experiences at a private studio and two YMCAs, I had enough knowledge of several forms to fill presently available teaching spots as well as substitute for several types of classes as needed. In all three institutions, however, I was the only teacher on staff to be experienced (though not officially certified) in Kundalini yoga.

All involved directors were interested in my offering my knowledge of the form, resulting in my own class in it at the private studio, and workshops in it at the YMCAs (with the appropriate qualifications to students of my non-certified status, as well as discretion on my part as an instructor, of course). My general knowledge set up prior opportunities and good working relationships with the directors and other teachers, while my more specialized knowledge allowed me to contribute something new and fresh (as well as gain great teaching experience, and frankly much-needed cash flow, for myself).

I saw how fellow instructors, especially at the two YMCAs, also used their balance of specialist versus generalist knowledge to their own and the programs’ (and therefore, of course, to its’ students) advantages. One teacher, for instance, was highly trained and experienced in Restorative Yoga. From exercising that knowledge and experience she gained a loyal student following, prime schedule spots for her classes, and high regard from other teachers.

Another teacher had studied at the Kripalu Center, and was therefore able to offer her expertise in that form in a very well-attended and respected class. She was also knowledgeable about Yin Yoga, so she also taught that. Yet another teacher was specially trained in Ashtanga Yoga, and offered a very popular and (in my opinion) pleasurable class in that form. All of these teachers, however, had enough knowledge in several forms – and in basic yoga theory – to guide students in their classes with desires and needs apart from their specialties, substitute-teach for other classes, and beneficially collaborate with other instructors.

To me as part of the instructor team, it felt great to have us engage in discourse as professionals with something unique to offer each other, yet enough common-ground knowledge and experience to share workable understandings. We had our “niches” and “brands”, but were all broadly knowledgeable and professionally-capable instructors in the ways that it matters. Again, as with anything else in life, it’s about finding and keeping connected with an effective balance. I would love to your views on the topic, and about your related experiences, so feel free to post below. Thank you and Namaste!

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