Recently, a long-time student/colleague was talking to me about the challenges and opportunities of team teaching in a training program where the trainers had different backgrounds and perspectives on asana, philosophy, practice, teaching, tradition, modernity, etc. On the one hand, different perspectives can be awesome, providing a learning environment with less dogma and rigidity and a broader lens through which to view and explore. Of course, the opposite is also true— with teachers offering different perspectives, the subtle territoriality and defensiveness (which almost everyone has at times and of which no one is proud) can fill the environment and have even the most expansive and generous people feeling protective, criticized, critical, and/or righteous.
And, the truth is, everyone can be trained in the same method by the same teacher and see things differently. Just gather a group of senior Iyengar teachers in a room together and you will find plenty of places where their opinions diverge.
Personally, I love harmonious relationships and rooms full of people who agree with me, one another, and who get along with ease and aplomb. I really do. And, I like smart, authentic, insightful, honest people who are in touch with their own experiences, perspectives, and opinions. Where those two strains of my personality intersect is where my life gets interesting, because smart, insightful, honest people in touch with themselves and their experiences do not always get along with one another easily. Reminds me of how my first OA sponsor told me, “Well, Christina, if at least 10% of the people in your life are not mad at you, chances are you are not telling the truth.” And, truth be told, I do not like that teaching any better today than I did almost 30 years ago.
And, yet, playing well with others in a training program is in our best interest as people if we don’t want to live life continually bitched-out, contracted, and in constant competition with others. Equanimity as part of a teaching team is, more importantly, in the best interest of the students who are there to learn from everyone on the faculty, not just us. And, lest we forget, the students are the reason we have a job in the first place. Speaking from many years of observing myself and others in the role of teacher, I think many of us occasionally forget that our teaching work is not about us. Our teaching work is not about us being perceived or recognized in any given way. Our brilliance as teachers is good insofar as it elevates the student’s understanding, capacity, growth, etc. And, while I love refining the craft of teaching, I am on a slippery slope when I forget what the purpose of that refinement truly is. (And yes, I think this a very difficult perspective to manage in the hustle of marketplace, in the face of our humanity, and in the messy, relational business of truth-telling in groups, otherwise known as yoga teacher training.)
So, I reminded my colleague that the good news about yoga is that yoga is a path of direct experience, not a belief system. Our task as teachers is not to get students to believe us instead of the teacher who taught the previous class. Our task is to guide students to their direct experience and help them participate more consciously on what the yoga is doing to them, within them, for them, etc.
I often point people to their direct experience in classes and workshops by presenting two different ways of approaching a posture and having the students try both ways. Then, I will ask them what they noticed about what differences the differences made. I explain that the capacity to articulate one’s experience is part of the process of integrating outer teachings into inner wisdom. When we articulate our experience, it is as though we are weaving a thread of awareness from the outer instructions, through the execution of the form, to the process of reflection, to the insight based on experience, through to the words that are now our own. At this point, as a teacher, we are free from needing anyone to believe us because they are in touch with their direct experience.
Sometimes I will ask for a show of hands, “Who thought approach #1 was easier?” and “Who thought approach #2 was easier?” (It isn’t about something being easier or harder, so substitute any adjective that suits your lesson that day.) Invariably, the room is split down the middle, which gives us a great opportunity to explore and examine not just own experience experience in the pose, but one another’s. I might be talking about handstands or back bends in class, but think of the radical, off-the-mat implications of being able to validate one’s own experience while taking interest in someone else’s. We are now training empathy, relationship, and connection.
As teachers, we need to challenge the assumption that there is only one right way to do an asana, and that if we can just find the right words for the right way, some kind of magic will happen. As practitioners and students, I think we can expand our idea of class and instructions beyond right and wrong, beyond what is easier and harder, and beyond just the execution of a posture and move toward the understanding that the postures and the variations are doorways to self-understanding, to a more conscious participation with our lived experience, to an increased capacity for reflection and an expanded tolerance for difference.
Okay, more could be said, but I am at my 1000-word limit. It is not too late to join the fun in Studies in Form and Flow. Also, I am out and about a lot this year and would love to see you in person at a workshop.
Photo by Andrea Killam
Follow This Blog
"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."