Essential Skills for Students of Yoga / by Dustin McCallister

With this series, I’ll attempt to introduce concepts that I think are fundamental for serious students of alignment-based yoga. I hope that these ideas help you deepen your class experiences!

Focused Watching

In many alignment classes, teachers will gather the class periodically to demonstrate movements. Usually those demonstrations include some spoken directions as well as the physical demonstration. These moments are particularly useful for visual learners, but even if you have a good understanding of the movements without seeing them, demonstrations can be a chance to reinforce or refine.

If the teacher is demonstrating the movements as an introduction, they will usually narrate the important movements as they are performed. Attend to the movements indicated: look for exaggerated movements, gesture to body parts, and especially to repetition. In a timed class, teachers won’t take the time to repeat unless it’s important!

If the demonstration is a clarification (the teacher is showing movements you have already done, rather than showing the movements for the first time), then this is a moment to refine your understanding of the verbal cues already used. As the teacher prepares the demonstration, visualize the movements implied by the language you have already heard, even going as far as picturing the teacher performing them before having done so. Then compare what you see to what you expected. If it matched, great. If not, why not? Does what you see make sense with what you heard? What is different: direction, placement, intensity, something else? If it does not make sense, ask a question after the demonstration is done. Chances are, other students had the same experience of some part of the movement not making sense, and better to get clarity rather than continue with a partial understanding.

Newer students should focus their attention on the movements being narrated–the double down of spoken instruction and demonstrated movement is a great chance to solidify understanding. More advanced students can learn to watch those movements and observe other movements shown, but not discussed, by the teacher. In a slow enough demonstration, the teacher will show many details beyond what they narrate. Intermediate and advanced students might be able to have their questions about details answered just by watching a demonstration.

Dustin McCallister Yoga Parsvottanasana