I’ve always seemed to be directionally challenged. I am not alone. Left-right confusion is a common phenomenon affecting about 25 percent of the population. Over the years I’ve learned to work around it. I always take an extra pause before registering which is my right or my left and I prefer to draw a diagram than give verbal directions. If navigating in a car, I will tell the driver to turn to your side or my side because it takes me too long to get the correct word out. I’ve been told not to worry; it is not a form of dyslexia nor a neurological problem. Great. But, now that I’ve become a yoga teacher, I’ve found this to be more troublesome then ever.
We know people learn in different ways. Some need to see it, some need to hear it, some need to feel it. When I stand in front of a yoga class, I am supposed to give verbal instructions AND lead the movements as if in a mirror or, in my mind, “backwards”. I’ve been told that seasoned teachers do this and experienced students expect it. Sigh. This means that if I raise my right arm, most students will raise their left. So, if I want my students to raise their right arm, I need to say “Raise your right arm” while I raise my left. At the beginning it was crazy-making and I really struggled. Since then, I’ve taken hints and tips from everyone: my yoga trainers, other teachers, various online discussions, and my students. This is how I have been coping.
1) My studio has mirrors on one wall and pictures on the other. I found it helpful to tell my students to face/turn/pivot toward the mirror or the pictures. I found it awkward to tell them to move the leg that’s closest the mirror, or raise the arm that is on the side of the pictures, so this alone wasn’t enough.
2) I wrote R and L (indelibly) on the front of my teaching mat. R is on the left side and L is on the right side. Yes, backwards. This has worked very well with a few exceptions. Crossed limbs were particularly perplexing (think eagle pose). Sometimes I could distinguish a top or bottom limb and use that as a cue.
3) Yoga teachers don’t always stay on their mats. When I moved around the room, I was again confused. Now, I’ve taken to also writing R and L on my hands and feet (not indelibly) so that my visual aids can travel with me. The hand and foot markers are also very helpful when I teach chair classes and I don’t use a mat. Extra bonus: when I am on my mat, I don’t have to look down and sneak a peak while looking up at my hand; I know which hand the students “think” it is!
4) I humbly ask my students for help. Which arm/leg/ foot was that? Which side did we just do? If you just did that side, do the other! Some of them have left-right confusion, too. All of them seem forgiving.
While I am doing better when teaching yoga classes, in the rest of my life I am now doubly confused, over-directionally challenged. Be wary if you ask me for directions. And, I never-ever bring my teaching mat to yoga classes or workshops I attend.