I love face-to-face Yoga classes! I especially love the group dynamic, the presence, motivation and enthusiasm of teachers who are able to pass on their energy to the students in their class. I also love the posture corrections, when done correctly and sensitively, with respect towards the Yoga practitioners.
However I, as a Yoga practitioner and human being, have Yoga teachers whose teaching methods I love, and some whom I avoid… It is simply an evolutionary biological advantage to have developed a fear or avoidance of pain or discomfort. Unfortunately, the (subjective) memory of a certain class is always bound to the way the Yoga teacher has treated practitioners. Did she make me feel comfortable? Did I feel her energy and motivation? Did she help me find my center with her presence? Did she correct my postures in a way that I felt her compassion, adaptability and respect for my anatomy? And did I progress with her help? Being a teacher is, after all, an honor, but also a responsibility.
At the start of my Yoga journey, I always tent to look at my Yogi neighbors to catch on what we were doing. I was completely unfamiliar with asanas, or even the word “asanas” in itself. Eventually, I caught myself in the middle of not listening at all to the instruction. When the attention is on “looking” instead of “hearing”, the focus is no longer be on one’s center. And the issue with “looking” is: your neighbors are likely also newbies and looking left and right, restlessly trying to catch up with the class, just like you. You may also be in the middle of Sarvangasana, the shoulder stand, in which it is harmful for your neck to turn unmindfully. Obviously, it is the practitioner’s fault, or more accurately distracted ability, for not listening. The Yoga teacher mostly provides very clear, precise, detailed instructions on how to do asanas.
In a large class, sometimes as big as 120 people in the room, there is just not enough time or space for the teacher to pay attention to and correct every single student. In advanced classes, students often get very competitive, but Yoga teachers can get just as motivated when they see the potentials of advanced students. Not all instructors see the readiness of the student’s body to go further but instead rather see their desires and ambitions.
There are teachers who have a strong grip and over-confidence in the students. When the body is pushed into an advanced asana when it is not ready yet, the risk of it getting hurt is high. Oftentimes when a student says “stop”, the point of discomfort may have already passed and turned into pain, which is an absolute no-go. General advice is to approach the discomfort zone up to 80, at most 90%, but never go over the limit into the pain area.
Aside from that, there are students who like to be helped into an asana, so that the work is released from their body. This is for instance true for Shalabhasana, the locust, which takes a lot of strength from the core and back to raise up both legs and hips off the ground. The teacher takes away the student’s effort by holding both legs and raise them further over the head. Ultimately though, aren’t we doing Yoga so that eventually we can do it ourselves?
As opposed to these, there are teachers who are afraid of hurting the student and therefore provide basically strokes without actual corrections, and students who are afraid of getting hurt and do not want to be touched at all. Some others, and these are those I like the most, provide only an impulse, a firm, but soft touch with the hand or finger at the right place to signal the student to concentrate more on that certain area. These impulses, however, can also be given verbally. This is where awareness really starts, by actively listening to and following verbal instructions. Listening with the ears sometimes sharpens when doing so with closed eyes, which helps to draw the attention back to oneself.
Awareness comes from being aware. It cannot be taught, forced or pushed. It can only be felt and experienced by oneself. During a Yoga practice, the practitioner is only as conscious as they are able to feel the movements in their own body, by staying with themselves. This attention on oneself is distracted when their body postures are passively corrected by another person.
This is why I offer an online Yoga coaching service via Skype/Hangout which is a combination of a home video and customized, real-time coaching. In this coaching session, I provide detailed, clear verbal instructions but also visually demonstrate the correct posture alignment when there is the need for the practitioner to watch before attempting a certain asana. Variations are given as I assess the physical readiness of the student from observing through the screen and communicating. The student gets a clear understanding of how an asana is done correctly and learns how to practice and correct it themselves. Without the ‘touch’ sense, all other senses sharpen. The student focuses more on listening and actively drawing attention to themselves. Ultimately, a Yogi should be able to do any asana themselves, within their own perceived limits. By doing Yoga asanas with focus and intention, the student (re)connects with the intuition to feel their body’s ability and its readiness for when it can move on. The role of a teacher is to encourage, guide, uncover and cultivate the potentials of the student, so that they can reach a deeper understanding, a more profound self-awareness of their own physical anatomy, mental ability and spiritual awareness.
Teachers encourage minds to think, hands to create and hearts to love.