I studied experiential education in college. One of my breadths of study was Outer Education. (Yes, I went to a liberal arts college that gave degrees in things like rock- climbing, back-packing and so on. Well, the degree wasn't in those activities precisely, but in how to be a skilled leader/educator in those areas. We were trained in teaching and leading not just backpacking, etc. My particular focus was on how to apply those outdoor-oriented pursuits to therapeutic settings so that climbing mountains in the wilderness could become a working metaphor for climbing inner mountains and so on. )
At any rate, in the world of Outdoor Education we talked continually about Hard Skills and Soft Skills. Hard Skills are skills like reading a map, using a compass, tying the right knots, starting a stove, using a belay, paddling a kayak, knowing CPR, throwing a rope into moving current and other rescue moves, reading whitewater, etc. Depending on what outdoor activity you are doing, there are applicable hard skills to master to "be good at the sport" so that you have a personal knowledge base and expertise to share with others. Hard Skills of teaching involved not just knowing how to start the stove, pitch a tent, start a fire, purify water, etc but how to break those things down and teach them safely, progressively and effectively to others.
Soft Skills involve things like using a metaphor consciously to help people find deeper meaning in their experience, communication skills, group-process skills, compassion, empathy, humor, self- restraint, and the ability to motivate and inspire people to challenge themselves in the difficult circumstances of living, playing and learning in the wilderness. In the outdoors, challenges are not only physical. Many times the challenges are mental or emotional. On a long trek, sometimes challenge of a personal nature come calling and other times, the group dynamic is where the "growth opportunity" exists.
So-- Hard skills are about know the technical information to get a group up the mountain safely. Soft skills are the skills that help people make use of the mountain-top experience and apply it to their inner life and their life at sea-level. Maybe an even simpler way to think about the distinction between the two is that Hard Skills keep people physically safe and Soft Skills help keep people emotionally safe. Or maybe, in terms of yoga language, Hard Skills are more about the doing-level and Soft Skills are more about the Being-level.
And like a ying yang symbol, these skills are in a relationship to one another and they exist within each other. Sometimes, someone feels emotionally safe to take a risk because the guide knows how to tie a knot that will not fail. Without the right knot, rock climbing doesn't just feel dangerous, it is dangerous.
My last blog entry about Yoga Teaching SuperPowers was a great example of Soft Skills- compassion, humility, sense of humor, clarity, dedication, self-validation, the desire to serve all fall into the Being Level of who we are as teachers and practitioners. My opinion, and not everyone shares this perspective with me, is that the Being Level is the primary and most important level we are working with in yoga. I believe that the poses, mantras, pranayamas, theories and practices that we study and DO are there to bring us into a deeper awareness of and relationship with the Being Level of who we are.
Of course, it gets tricky because the Doing Level is also important, valid and necessary.
After I graduated from college, I worked as an outdoor instructor with youth-at-risk. As a young, idealistic, new-age seeker and recovering perfectionist, I was passionate about Being and a bit skeptical about all the "doing" of our culture and society. (I was probably more-than-a-little annoying also, but that is another story for another day.)
One day, my mentor/ boss sat me down and told me that I wasn't helping the kids by not pushing them more in the field. I gave my whole pitch about Being and not doing and she looked at me and said, "Christina, you have studied experiential education, right?"
"Yes," I answered.
"Well then," she said. "How does a young person develop self-esteem? How does someone get a sense of accomplishment? How does someone who has quit every thing they have started learn commitment, follow-through and dedication?"
I didn't have much to say at this point in the conversation. (Rare, I know.)
"Think about it, Christina," she continued patiently, "for someone to have a sense of accomplishment, they actually have to DO SOMETHING. Get them up that mountain and they will feel better about who they are!"
There it is- the yin and the yang. The white eventually morphs into black and the black morphs into white. And the seed of black is in the white and the seed of white is in the black.
As yoga teachers, we see the relationship between Doing and Being all the time. No matter how much we talk about Being, when someone kicks up to the wall in handstand by themselves for the first time- when they do the thing they could not do before-- the achievement is empowering, enlightening and transforming. All this to say, that like so many things in yoga, the hard and soft are not separate categories interdependent and in relationship with one another.
A huge myth in yoga teaching is that having a great physical practice means that someone is a great teacher. Sometimes that is true. I have studied with many teachers who were not only amazing practitioners but who had profound teaching abilities as well. And I have met many great physical practitioners who were less-than-great teachers. I have met many great teachers who were not particularly strong, flexible or fancy in their asana practice. I have met teachers with great technical prowess (hard skills) who were not kind or compassionate. I have met teachers with hearts of gold (soft skills) who lacked the necessary communication skills to guide others into the postures clearly. So- the variables are endless and it is a bit of a razor's edge.
And the thing about walking a razor's edge is we can fall off either side.
The good news is that if we know ourselves and where we fall naturally, we can maximize our strengths and learn to mitigate our weaknesses. And in many cases, what we think are weaknesses can even become strengths.
For instance, I have a very flexible yoga teaching friend. (Actually, I have lots of these friends.) A lot of the postures came very easily to this person and when faced with a room of stiffer, de-conditioned, and newer students, they do not know how to help them because they themselves never had to sort out the basic postures for themselves. So, while they are super-able to help the flexible people in class with the poses in the "back of the book", they are not so great at helping the more average person in a class.
If you are a teacher who thinks that your "stiffer body" is a liability, think again! It could be that all of your struggles are training you to be creative, insightful, compassionate and very effective with stiffer students.
Now the cool thing is that we can learn to teach things we can not do (within reason) and we can learn to teach people who have troubles that were not own. As beginning teachers, stick with what you can do and what you know. Experienced teachers can nudge a bit beyond that protocol and start thinking more like a coach. After all, some of the best coaches in history were not great players themselves. A good coach understands the game, the psychology and physical capacity of their players and knows the opponent just as well. A good coach knows how to train, to motivate and to help someone dig deep to find their own potential. Think about it.
So, here is the key point to managing yoga teacher anxiety-- being a good teacher is not really about what we can do ourselves. Being a great teacher is about what we can help other people do for themselves. What we can do for ourselves informs our ability to help others but it is not the only ingredient in the soup.
okay, so now I am mixing metaphors- mountain climbing, coaching, cooking....
Next entry-- The HARD SKILLS SUPERPOWERS.
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