Hoping to start a bit if a series here concerning teaching yoga. For me, teaching yoga IS a very integral part of my yoga practice as well, so there are a lot of topics to possibly cover.
This first one is a huge one involving a teachers intention with regards to what they are hoping to create for their students and how that can effect physically adjusting them as well. This is a somewhat controversial subject as well as it brings up the dark secret of students getting injured by teachers, a topic that is one of my highest priorities to battle against. It makes me both ired and physically ill when I hear of students being injured. Granted there are a couple of ways to find oneself injured and two of them are all ego. 1. Student Ego- “I need to push hard even if I know intrinsically that it is a bad idea. 2. Teacher Ego- “Let me show you how far I can put you into an asana. 3. Asana is a physical approach to yoga practice and things sometimes just happen.
Before we crack into that subject I want to preface it by talking about intention, as intention of the teacher is preventative medicine for those first two ego situations. When I began learning Thai Massage one of the first things I was taught was to take 30 seconds to a minute and briefly set my intentions. Something to the effect of, ” I am simply a conduit of this knowledge with the addition of my own personal experiences. I am here to make this person healthier and happier and not to prove how good I am at this or to touch them for any ulterior motive. Let the history, knowledge, and energy flow through me and not simply from me.” By setting this intention before dealing with any student or client, I am trying to clear the way for patience, awareness, and complete compassion for their needs. ***Teaching is not about you.*** Your personality and creativity may effect your popularity of course, but do not fall into the ego trap mentioned in almost every old yoga text. In teaching yoga I also am constantly aware and thoughtful both getting my ego out of the way, but also setting an intention for what I want my students to receive. ”No matter what the reason is that you have stepped into my class, I simply want you to leave feeling happier and healthier.”
Here we get into a bit of controversy as to us Ashtanga teachers. I have no problem “bucking the system” to get the best results and firmly believe that that is the point of yoga. What can we do together to have the best results. I have not been to Mysore and have no wish to go there, at all. There are things that are simply being taught improperly (in my opinion) by many teachers simply because it is “traditional” or its what the powers that be say is right. Well, if tradition trumps logic and compassion than we might as well head back to the Dark Ages of human treatment. I only mention the above as I have had teachers reprimand me for teaching in manners that they didn’t believe were traditional. Now I certainly disagree with the way some teachers are approaching the teaching of yoga, but it is not for me to confront them in the least UNLESS… they are injuring students due to their methodology. Oddly enough the teachers that have been offended enough to tell me to be more “traditional” have all injured students, some of which have had to have surgery. Personally, if I find that I have EVER injured someone by pushing and pulling on them, I would reconsider my job. Often teachers never get feedback as students are reticent to confront them. In fact the only time I personally confronted a teacher who assisted me so hard in a posture to give me a life long knee injury, I was told that it was my fault because “you men, you push too hard.” Geeze, I wonder if said teachers assist was from a place of compassion or ego? This is obviously a subject I get my dander up about, and rightfully so I believe. Can anyone put a price on giving a student a life long injury? If you are a student who has been injured, you need to let a teacher know so history does not repeat itself . Most likely the instructor will be broken hearted and do whatever it takes to help you out. Two side notes here… 1. I have actually heard of instructors telling students to go until it hurts and then push a bit further. If you hear this run away fast as you are no longer learning yoga or teaching yoga. 2. I have also had a student have a visiting instructor assist them by pushing down hard on their thighs in Baddha Konasana. Student to instructor; ” I am uncomfortable with that assist and it is hurting me.” Certified Ashtanga Instructor to student: “Its ok. You need to work through the pain to break through. I had to go through the same process.” Student to me later on; ”I need to take time off for a while as both my knees are really hurting and I cannot practice now.” Seriously? What is wrong with some of you? (author steps away to drink some water and breathe deeply)
So as far as assisting goes from a teaching perspective, come back to the concept of intention; ”What is the purpose behind this physical adjustment?” After much thought and observation I have come to the realization…
1.There are two types of assists.
A. Feel good assists. The act of touching a student to make something simply feel better. A massage-like assist best done by those with solid massage and anatomy knowledge.
B. Awareness assists. The act of touching a student to impart knowledge to them concerning what is a better anatomical approach to the asana they are attempting.
*There is a lot more here to be said but I have simplified the above quite a bit.*
I find that assisting someone aggressively, i.e. pushing on them with a lot of weight, forcing their body somewhere it cannot go, forcing binding, pressing downward on limbs, twisting them further etc, are all assisting for the wrong reasons. If you are forcing a students hands together to bind what are you imparting? You are telling a student first of all that the goal is to get deeper, faster. ”I am not in the posture fully unless I am binding.” This creates a goal oriented practice and thus frustration as the student is now a bit less satisfied without the assist to get them where they cannot yet go. At some point you WILL injury someone by doing this. Unless you have x-ray vision for anatomy, you have no idea what is truly going on in their body.
Patiently waiting for the process of deepening and opening asana is a must for both teacher and student.
If you are a student let none of those brief stories scare you. Let them empower you to practice more attentively and to let teachers know when you are uncomfortable with what they are doing. Ask yourselves what the intention of your teacher is and if it is something you agree with. I personally never find myself pushing to %1oo in any asana for several reasons. It would be easy for me to misjudge what %100 is. A teacher may decide to assist me and push me beyond where I already am. And finally, if you are practicing and pushing hard you are most likely responding more to the energy of adrenaline release as opposed to endorphin release. Aggression and excitement vs. happiness and euphoria. Again I simplify, but hopefully the point comes across.
If you are teaching, truly observe and study your intentions! Constantly be a student of yoga and rid yourself of the ego. Try to constantly read, study, and practice the roots of the philosophy as much as you can. Set a brief intention before class concerning why you are about to teach and what you hope to convey. Create and environment where your students are comfortable and safe. Now and then I let them know my intentions! I want to establish an environment wherein they should feel comfortable asking any question, questioning what I am teaching, and giving me feedback so I also can constantly learn. We are simply teachers. We are not rock stars or celebrities. We are not doctors. We do not always know what is best or have all the answers.
I believe that what truly separates some teachers from others is the intention. Knowledge and experience mean little when tag teamed with the wrong intentions.
Hope this finds everyone well and happy! Love what you do and do what you love!
-Love you all.-m
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