Teaching Yoga to the Adults in the Room
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | July 22, 2022 COMMENTS
Several years ago I had a participant in one of my teacher trainings who was a brilliant engineer and college professor. During a break she approached me and said, “You know, one of the things I like about you is that you teach from the perspective of andragogy, not pedagogy.” I had never heard the word “andragogy” so I asked her to explain further. “The word ‘pedagogy’ has the same root as the word ‘pediatrics’,” she said. “It means teaching or leading children. But ‘andragogy’ is the art and science of teaching adults. You treat us like adults, not children. I’m grateful for that.”
That made my day. And learning more about the field of andragogy gave me the possibility of thinking about and describing a way of teaching that I had intuitively gravitated towards. No one wants to be treated like a child (not even children). And if yoga is about deepening self-understanding, then telling adults how to do that without a collaborative lens and group process can be patronizing.
On a personal level, I have been pummeled by the mental sledgehammers of several famous (and not so famous) yoga teachers I’ve studied with and that is NOT an experience I have any interest in replicating in my trainings or classes.
Still, figuring out the andragogy behind teaching yoga can be tricky – and training yoga teachers even trickier.
On one hand I want to methodically guide an exploration of yoga’s authentic, complex, stellar technology of self-realization – including the tools, the philosophy, the practices, and accompanying stories from the tradition and from my own life that elucidate certain aspects of the journey. On the other hand, I want folks to have their own experiences and epiphanies. As an aside, I don’t love the word “student” for describing adults who study yoga, so I often use the word “participant” instead.
There’s something of a tightrope that we walk as yoga teachers between delivering knowledge and validating participants’ own experiences. So, to give this conversation some context, I’d like to refer to Yoga Sutra 1.7:
“There are three ways of gaining correct knowledge (pramana): 1) perception, 2) inference, and 3) testimony or verbal communication from others who have knowledge.” (Trans. SwamiJ)
Technically, this sutra is not about pedagogy or andragogy, it’s about epistemology or ways of knowing – but of course these are intimately related topics.
Some commentators will say that since perception comes first in Patanjali’s list, it means that it’s the most important of the three, then inference (your deductive skills), and then finally, if the previous two fail, seek out authority. But perhaps Patanjali was offering a balanced formula – that all three of these ways of knowing are necessary for learning (unless you are born a realized being, I suppose)?
Here’s the thing, if you solely rely on your own perception and ignore the other two, you risk misperceiving or not perceiving things at all and you set yourself up to become a self-referential narcissist.
If you solely rely on inference or your deductive skills, you risk becoming Dr. Spock-ish and ruling out anything that’s illogical – and there is plenty of reality that isn’t logical.
And if you solely rely on authority or what it says in a book, then you risk becoming a dogmatic, non-critical thinker and potentially turning into Church lady.
IMHO we need all three ways of knowing. And in teaching yoga and training teachers, I try to utilize all three. I like to show folks different ways of approaching and doing practices (including ethical inquiry, asanas, prāṇāyāma, and meditation) and encourage them to try them over time. See how they land and how they sit. I also am an fan of questions, inquiry, research, and the scientific method. And I love presenting the texts and offering further resources for reading or referring to other teachers I love.
Being a student or participant of yoga requires some humility – I don’t know everything and perhaps I can learn from someone who has some more experience. Can I internalize some of the wisdom that is being passed along and accept that others have been here before me and may have something important to share?
Being a student or participant also requires some intellectual rigor and critical thinking skills – does this thing I’m being taught make sense? Is it logical? Is there some science that helps validate it?
And then being a student or participant of yoga also requires validation of my own experience. Can I become the scientist and the experiment? Can I make this a longitudinal study and not rely solely on one experience before drawing conclusions? Can I deepen my understanding through the insight that arises from my regular practice?
Sutra 1.7 provides a jumping off point for healthy and effective andragogy. It invites us to work together, to collaborate, to bring our collective knowledge to the experiment, to support each other. It invites us to be open to new information and to the idea that studying yoga is a lifelong endeavor, and an incredible privilege.