Let me take you back to the year 2003. Strap on your vortex manipulator and off we go! It’s a drizzly Saturday in 2003.
I was almost finished with my yoga teacher training, when my teacher asked me to fill in for him in one of his courses. I did not feel ready at all (which is the relaxed version of saying I was quite shocked), but since he trusted me, I went for it.
Picture it: A yoga class with over 60 people and a super nervous me. I was well prepared, but didn’t expect how profoundly this debut would shape my future. As I began to teach the class the way I had learned it – standing in front of the class, showing the poses and explaining roughly what I was doing – it hit me: SOMETHING IS WRONG.
Picture it: A yoga class with over 60 people and a super nervous me. I was well prepared, but didn’t expect how profoundly this debut would shape my future.
The majority of the group didn’t have an unobstructed view on me. They were turning their heads in upside down poses or crawling off their mat to look past the people in front of them. Not what you call a smooth flow.
As a result, I began to explain in more detail. That worked much better. But then I spotted tension in someone’s shoulders. A neck that was longing for more space. A spine that wanted more support from the belly. Some people were far off in their thought world, not feeling what they were doing. Others were mainly focused on me trying to copy what I did instead of being with themselves to enjoy their own experience.
All these bits of information made me realize that I can’t do that. Not like this.
I spontaneously stopped showing the poses and walked right into the crowd. I couldn’t stay in front of the class doing my thing while the group needed me to give them space to focus on the one person they came to take care of in the first place: themselves.
All my improv skills were challenged to guide through the class step by step with verbal instruction only. It was hard since I hadn’t learned to be so precise and unambiguous with my descriptions. However, I stuck to it and explained every step, every arm position in various ways to make sure everyone knew what I meant. What happened? They began to focus on themselves and truly felt the stretches, the power and the release in their body. It was wonderful. So far, so good.
Then we did a balancing pose and quite a few had trouble and fell – as we all do. When I saw their reactions, I saw frustration and anger. So I felt I had to offer them another choice: How about using this as a chance to practice a calm state of mind while facing a challenge because neither frustration nor anger are useful here. I suggested that these emotions don’t prevent us from falling and just make us unhappy for no reason…so why not go a different way and begin to play and have fun. In my very first class ever, I focussed on sharing a balanced state of mind while guiding through the poses only with words.
Many years later Tom and I called the mindset training „Space“. We felt that space is fitting because you don’t see it and can’t touch it but it is essential – like the state of mind is crucial to creating a happy life. Also, the idea of Space pervading each Heaven & Earth class is so fitting – the mindset is our utmost priority. Find out more about our classes.
After class – to my surprise – I got amazing feedback. They told me, they hadn’t ever had the chance to focus on themselves like this. They told me they had never felt so fresh, relaxed, clear and strong after class. They even asked me where I teach because they wanted to come to my classes from now on. Wow. I was blown away and not ready for this.
When Tom picked me up I told him about my experience and we knew what we had to do: Work on a completely new way of sharing this practice – verbal only plus addressing the state of mind while guiding through the movements.
It was a long process during which many times I woke up at night because my mind was still refining my choice of words and descriptions. But it worked out and the sleepless nights were worth it.
Benefits of Verbal Guidance for the Group
Verbal guidance (and I will talk about the choice of the word „guidance“ instead of „teaching“ in a moment) gives everyone in the group (not only the front row) the chance to follow easily. Each space in the room is equally good.
Also, you can focus on yourself completely instead of splitting your attention between the teacher and yourself. Focussing on yourself completely results in even more benefits like: no comparison of your flexibility/strength to a teacher or fellow participant, no risk of injury, no unfortunate twisting and turning the head to see what the teacher is showing and you allow yourself to do everything your own way instead of trying to copy someone else.
Being guided step by step, detail by detail, triggers a deep state of mindfulness and every tendency of automatic behavior (habitually moving from dog to cobra etc.) melts away and gives room to a conscious, informed decision based on what is here now because if you are tired you’ll make a different choice than when you feel energized.
Benefits of Verbal Guidance for the Guide
A good thing always goes both ways: There are major benefits for the guide as well. As a guide, you don’t need to feel super fit and flexible each day and prove to your group how awesome your poses are.
You don’t have struggle how to be there for the group, while showing the pose in the front. Instead, you can connect to everyone (not only with the first row), walk up to everyone offering individual suggestions.
By using only the voice to guide, the physical gets out of the way completely.
You can share Yuna no matter what you bring to class physically (yes, you can share Yuna even when you are in a wheelchair or can’t move all of your limbs) because you are not a performer on a stage.
Instead, you are an inspiration to others, invite them to go beyond the pyhsical and competitive attitude of our world and begin to play and enjoy.
A Yuna Guide empowers others to do the practice in their own unique way – just like they live their lives. You’ll describe little details that go overlooked when only shown in a demo. By pointing out the little things, you make it so easy for everyone to stay mindful of what is going on – that’s how you transform movement into a meditation instead of name dropping (go into your chaturanga, inhale cobra, exhale down dog) where it is so easy to become mechanical.
Teacher vs. Guide
When I am guiding through a class, I am not a teacher or an instructor. And certainly no guru. I don’t pretend to know more than my group or know what’s best for others and am not on a stage posing. Instead, I am side by side with my group offering suggestions and encouragement to trust themselves (again).
I can be there for my group 100% and connect with everyone through the heart. My job is to support and encourage everyone to not listen to me but instead, to listen to the voice of the heart within themselves.
It is an honor to witness everyone light up and feel good in their own skin because everyone is doing the same pose and no-one is doing it exactly the same. Just like in life – we all do the same thing (living) but everyone’s life is unique.
What is a guide? When you explore a new city, you take a guide and let him/her take care of the organization, plan your trip, rely on her/him to point out sights, share insights with you, lead you to secret spots that only locals know about and this way you can lean back, relax and enjoy the ride.
That’s what I do in class. I am a guide, not a teacher. In fact, I am learning from each one in the group same as they learn from me. I am a student of life like we all are.
If you want to become a Yuna Guide, join my training (currently in German)! You’ll learn to verbally guide yang-like and yin-like classes, come home into the heart and discover your own amazing potential. Benefit from my 17 years of experience working with thousands of humans and as soon as my training is available in English, I’ll let you know.
Comment below and share your thoughts with me. Or send me a DM on Instagram @suzannefreiherz
Photo by Tom Freiherz.