There are some yoga teachers who seem to possess an almost mystical ability to intuit their students’ needs, practically before the students know themselves what they are. They’re able to read bodies like other people read books. Apparently without effort, they act on what they see, weaving precise refinements and personalised cues into their guidance. In doing so they allow their students to connect deeper than ever before with their yoga practice and their own bodies.
What is it that takes a yoga teacher from a body reading novice to an insightful master?
Some would say these rare teachers are born with it. That it’s a gift.
The world of fiction is abundant with stories of these people with “gifts”. We have the maverick Dr House, with his almost psychic ability to diagnose and resolve strange illnesses, and detectives like Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, who solve the unsolvable with their laser sharp deduction.
So do we accept the premise that the master yoga teachers who achieve this impressive level of intuition are simply born with the gift? Absolutely not. Body reading is a skill, that like any other, can be learned over time and with practice. By learning specific techniques and strategies, you can pay attention enough to register the subtle clues given by your student’s bodies. When a yoga teacher knows what to look for, they can hone this skill until it becomes second nature. In the YogaLife Advanced TTC (The Body), this is one of the skills we help yoga teachers to develop.
Reading your students’ bodies by their positioning, movement and facial expressions is a key part of being present. Even the students who tell you about their injuries, pains or niggles will only share the tip of their physiological iceberg. It’s for you as a teacher to learn to sense the quality of their sensation, the impact it has on their body, and their mental and emotional response to it within their yoga practice. That deeper connection, combined with a secure knowledge of corrective techniques and modifications, allows you to guide your students to overcome their challenges. When your students find comfort and ease in their bodies, their minds and spirits are free to follow. The power to bring your students skilfully into a state of greater holistic wellbeing is what differentiates a master teacher from a novice.
So how can you start to develop these skills? Here are a few body scan cues to get you started…
Take a look at your student’s stance in tadasana. Where is their weight distributed? Can you see any asymmetries, or holding patterns of tension?
Then observe them in a seated posture. How do they sit? How comfortable are they? How is their posture? Where can you discern tightness or restriction?
Watch what happens to their breathing as they move. Is their quality of breath ragged or smooth? Shallow or deep? What clues could this give as to their emotional state?
Read their facial expressions. Are there any micro-movements or fleeting emotions that you can discern? What are they communicating to the world?
Where do their hands go during practice? Where might they be unconsciously needing a healing hand? And so on…
Intuition is not magic. As Dr Kahnemann, author of, “Thinking Fast and Slow,” explains, intuition in any field comes after repeated experiences that lead to certain results that can be reasonably predicted. With enough repetition, our brains are able to recognise the slight but significant indicators that bring us to the correct conclusion in a split second, almost without us knowing how we got there.
What this means is that for us as yoga teachers, we need to first learn the skill of body reading and then transform it into intuition. What initially takes studious effort and reflection becomes effortless over time, and a Master Yoga Teacher is born.
Interested in learning how to read a body? Learn more about our Anatomy Advanced Teacher Training!