If a teacher guides from a place of compassion and empathy, students start believing in themselves. And, ultimately, that’s what good yoga teachers provide – the opportunity for students to actualize a satisfying practice rather than becoming unhealthily dependent upon the teacher to provide something they feel unable to find in themselves. The most powerful yoga teachers recognize that their skill arises from their ability to be a mirror for their students to realize their own capacity and brilliance.
Students come to yoga classes for a variety of reasons: instruction, safety, exercise, perhaps a sense of community. People who come to yoga, and people in general, in most areas of their lives, consciously or unconsciously, are seeking to internalize their sense of control, to feel like their thoughts and actions are empowered and self-referential. And to free themselves of the tyranny of object referral.
When yoga teachers guide their classes from this understanding, the practice becomes a co-creative endeavor. Awareness grows and we move beyond the anachronistic labels of “teacher” and “student” and toward an empowered pedagogy of “facilitators” and “co-learners.”
So how do we facilitate this inner guidance so that it can play out not only in yoga classes but also beyond the mat?
One important (and trauma informed) way is to offer options – not from “this is the ultimate, final version of the pose and if you can’t do this, then here’s something easier for you, sweetie.” But rather from the attitude of “this is what we are trying to stretch or strengthen and here are a few ways you can do that.” There is no need to label poses “advanced” or “beginner” or to hold up more difficult poses as a goal. Rather we can guide students toward developing an inner awareness of what they need. We can empower them to honor that rather than intimidating them with our own agendas.
When I’m teaching a more difficult pose, I like to throw in cavalier comments like, “and here’s a version for the mere mortals amongst us” or “that version of the pose doesn’t work for my body, but I might try it again in my next life.” Other quips include, “Just because you can’t do this pose, doesn’t mean you won’t achieve samadhi”, “Don’t worry, if this pose isn’t for you, you won’t go to yoga hell,” and “If advanced poses led to samadhi, then we’d all be pilgrimaging to Las Vegas to pay homage at the Temple of Cirque Du Soleil.” Being clear about what we’re doing is important to me. We are having fun, we are coming home to our bodies, we are finding freedom and peace in movement – we are not competing in Olympic gymnastics.
Another important tool is learning how to guide co-learners toward the awareness of their experience – how does the body, the mind, the breath respond to a practice? Take time to experience the feelings in your body before, during and after poses. With asana practice, we are not simply stretching muscles, we are also toning lymph and blood vessels, stimulating nerves, organs and glands and stretching the subtle pathways, nadiis or meridians, of the energy body.
You don’t have to see or feel florescent blue light coursing through and around you to feel and understand energy moving through your body. You don’t have to be psychic or an energy healer to work with the flows of prana. You simply have to quiet yourself a bit in order to develop a subtle awareness of the feelings in the body. Knowing where the lines of energy and major acupoints are is helpful to this process. Visualizing the energy flowing through you along those lines can also be helpful. And of course focusing on the breath is key to developing more inner awareness, and self-reference.
I’ll talk about these ideas and more in my online workshop beginning next week – August 8 and again on August 12. I hope you can join me. Find out more and sign up here.