Monday, June 25, 2012

The Difference Between Leading and Teaching a Yoga Class

This summer marks the fourth summer of Halifax Yoga in the Park. There have been some disheartening dramas over the past four seasons of fire and light, but the yoga on the ocean... that has only gotten better.

(Our first YITP spot summer 2009) 

A result of this journey has been accepting that if I want YITP to stay free and accessible to all and to continue to be a shared outside yoga experience, I need to accept the responsibility of this shared practice. I can count on my hands how many times someone else lead the class.

But wait. I'm not a yoga instructor.

I do create the sequences and lead classes though. Does that make me a yoga instructor? Heck no.

What I have learned from the past four summers is that simply creating an asana sequence and talking through your own practice does not a yoga teacher make. Far from it.

Sure, it takes some thought and experience to think up a sequence that makes sense from a movement perspective, covers your asana bases (see Michelle Myhre's post on what to remember) and will last about an hour with potential modifications and upgrades for different levels of yogis. But that's not teaching.

 (YITP on top of a fort spring 2010, before we were asked to kindly find another spot by a local yoga instructor, or to join her by-donation class that was taking place same time, same day)

Sure, talking about loud cueing appropriate breath and little tips while you yourself are moving through the sequence can be tricky (especially if you want to sweat too!). But that's most certainly NOT teaching.

(after an hour of wondering the park, we found our new YITP home for the remainder of 2010, 2011 and now 2012)

Nope, what I do is lead. A dvd could take my place. Why? Because I most certainly do not have the knowledge or training to help adjust, modify and TEACH the postures for each yogi.

(of course, not long after attempts were made from this local yoga instructor to also move her not-free yoga class to the same spot, only 30minutes sooner. YITP kept it in the end, but not without cost...)

How is teaching different from leading?

When the instructor helps each yogi to specifically meet their own asana and yoga potential during a pose, sequence and class so the yogi can grow in their practice: that is teaching.

(Our Warrior III's circa summer 2011- YITP as it should be- Community)

article and photographs copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. It looks so beautiful where you are! Despite being Canadian I have never been to the Maritimes... One day I will!

    For me the biggest difference between leading and teaching (besides what you mention) is that when you lead, you are also doing the practice, and your focus is on yourself. When you teach, you are not doing the practice (even if you are demonstrating poses and transitions) and your focus is on your students. :)

    The classes I teach are "community" classes in that there is no fixed fee - I do collect donations to pay for the space and raise money (& do clothing drives) for a local women's shelter. Everyone pays what they like and what they can afford, and we usually end up raising a decent amount! Of course, I have a "day job" so I don't need to rely on teaching yoga to pay my rent - thank goodness!

  2. Just tossing out a suggestion here - we have a little group that gets together on Saturday mornings, and one of two of us who "facilitate" will bring the "instructor" ala iPod style. We have a preference for YogiWade (awesome vinyasa sessions with lots and lots of FREE downloadable podcasts). YogaJournal also has a selection and there are more out there.

    Anyhoo, we bring our "instructor", ask what the group feels like (energetic? restorative? easy? medium? hard?) pick a podcast and go. Then we all can enjoy the sequence with our Virtual Leader and the cues that go with it. And nobody has to watch the time in deep relaxation...

    There are lots of good, portable speakers on the market for something like this, and then everyone can easily work at their own ability that day.

    Love that you folks can meet outside! Weather is too iffy for here for YITP, so we meet at the local Y.

  3. I really have to whip my butt into shape and actually make it to YITP this summer. I'm going to try my darndest.

    Have other people volunteered to teach/lead or do you ask people?

  4. Sorry to think with my "lawyer hat" on but please make sure it is clear to everyone that you are not a yoga instructor. Yoga instructors (should) have liability insurance. Should someone become injured, or worse, merely claim to be injured, doing one of your sequences, you could be in for some headaches. (Caveat: I am in the very litigious US. Maybe it's not the same in Canada)

  5. @La Gitane: that is an excellent point! re: "community" classes- what we tried to make clear was that our YITP was about sharing a yoga practice outside- and not about providing free yoga. Especially since no one is actually 'teaching' :)

    @Kristin: Yes- we could download a podcast and play it, but honestly it gets so windy near the ocean it might be tricky to hear the difference. We've thought about it though! :) We truly enjoy yogaglo for our friend yoga at the apartment all year!

    @Christine: yes! we miss you! :) Hopefully we'll see you next weekend :)

    @Anon: oh yes, it is made very very clear at the beginning over every practice. (and it's very clear on our facebook group under 'info'). Canadians are culturally less likely to sue than Americans, even more so maritimers- which is an interesting cultural difference. :)

  6. Love our practices Saturday mornings! and am grateful that you take on the responsibility of leading! Thanks EcoYogini!!!!!! Also I really think your last picture brings it home for me - Community.

  7. Ya teaching is different from leading.Teacher teaches you each and every step again and again if you are wrong.


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