Yoga is Conversation

Note: Chelsea Roff is on assignment at the Advanced Vinyasa Teacher Training in Montana with LiveLoveTeach. Stay tuned for her updates and wrap-ups this week.

Teaching is a conversation.

That’s the kind of statement that should make a yoga teacher go “hmmmmmm.” Take a pause. Let it settle. You speak to your students, but do you allow them to speak back to you?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Ryan Tir

I know, that picture’s kind of silly. But you know what I’m talking about!

I’ve been to — okay, even taught —  a lot of yoga classes that are more like a lecture than a conversation. The communication between teacher and students is unquestionably one way, like two people trying to talk to one another on a cell phone with bad reception. The yoga teacher’s message is coming through loud and clear (maybe), but the student’s voice is muffled with static. The beautiful dialogue of yoga becomes a flat and yawn-inducing monologue.

How do our students speak to us? Well, usually not with their words. It’s not often you call out “Down-dog!” and your students chime back “Okay, teach. Got it! What’s next?” No, as yoga teachers, we must learn to listen for more subtle messages.

  • When you cue an inhale, notice how your students respond. Is their breath slow and steady or choppy and cut short? What are they saying to you if they don’t breathe in at all?
  • If you encourage students to square their hips in Warrior 1, notice whether their hips shift at all. Are they expressing resistance, carelessness, or maybe confusion about the message you’ve communicated? How are you going to respond?
  • When you pull out that well-rehearsed analogy about how trees that don’t sway break in the wind, notice the facial expression of the students. Careful now. You may even get a few rolls of the eyes.

After a full day of practice teaching — and more importantly, practice listening — at the Advanced Vinyasa Teacher Training in Montana, I’ve seen with refreshing clarity what happens when the conversation of yoga becomes one way. The zest of the yoga practice sours. The union of breath and movement falls away. The connection between mind and body dissipates into “I wonder what’s for dinner…” and the slinging of limbs from posture to posture.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

What is possible when teaching yoga becomes a dialogue, a conversation between teacher and student?

Well, for me, it’s deceptively simple, but my goodness… so powerful. Connection. Relationship. One person seeing another and responding to his/her needs rather than their own beliefs about how things should be. What if we could do that with our children? What if we could do that with our “enemies”? What if it started with this… just teaching yoga, seeing and being seen.

Yoga teachers (and students), I want to hear from you. Does yoga feel like a conversation? 

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- who has written 43 posts on Yoga Modern.

Chelsea Roff is a writer by day and yoga teacher by night, a weaver of words as well as of asanas. She is Managing Editor at, and her writing has been featured by Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, Wanderlust Festival and the Hanuman Festival. Chelsea is passionate about using online media to inspire action that serves a greater cause -- whether it be the expansion of knowledge, support of our global community, or improvement of planetary and personal health. She travels the country teaching yoga in the most non-traditional of spaces, from cocktail parties to public protests to centers for at-risk youth. In Dallas, Chelsea helped start a yoga service organization that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons. Chelsea currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.

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