By Kathryn Boland
Do you recognize ways in which your students could have richer yoga practices experience if they could release their strongly held views of “wrong” and “right”? Do you wish they could just trust what their inner knowing can tell them is best for them as individuals? In the first part of this series, I introduced this dynamic through describing a student of mine who presently seems unable to look to herself for her own answers, instead constantly seeking reassurance from me that she’s doing it “right”. I suspect, dear readers, that you’ve encountered similar students.
That behavior, and these students’ underlying lack of confidence in themselves as practitioners, is problematic in a few aspects. Firstly, it limits the potential of their practices because they know things about themselves, things that impact the practices that are best for them, that we instructors could never fully grasp. Furthermore, lack of willingness to look inward for answers stands in the way of their growth into individuals who can find what is right for themselves within themselves – a key part of our journeys as yoga practitioners.
So, all of this considered, how can we guide our students to listen to, to trust, themselves as yoga practitioners? How can we boost their confidence when they come from a culture that all too often tells them that their choices are “wrong”? Firstly, we can foster full and open communication between ourselves and our students. As yoga instructors, it helps us to hear students tell us what does and does not feel right for them, their goals, and the pertinent elements of their personal histories.
That helps us to lead them in practices that more appropriately fit them, rather than the other way around. Even after doing so – as we’re humans who make mistakes, and not perfect teaching robots (how boring would that be?) – students who listen to their inner knowing can make choices to follow what we offer, or make alternate choices (such as resting in Child’s Pose versus taking another Vinyasa flow sequence).
How can we foster that kind of communication? Ideally, what does it sound, feel, and look like? In Part I of this series I described how I tried to deliver these ideas to my student – some of which I would repeat, given the chance, and some of which I know that I could have approached more tactfully and articulately. Otherwise, we can offer students further resources on yogic perspectives and philosophies. There are countless videos, books, websites, et cetera on those topics – accessible and (likely) appealing to all types of people. Perhaps - if they might have the time, inclination, and intellectual capacity – they might even feel up to tackling the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita.
If students can’t, or don’t want to, approach these resources on their own, it’s always an option to cite phrases or sentences from them at any point during our practices (full credit given, of course). Many instructors also read passages from such texts at the beginning of classes - or at some point before, during, or to end Savasana. When teachers do this in classes that I take, it most often adds something truly special to my experience of that day’s practice. Exposure to these sources can help students to more fully understand, and hopefully embrace, the yogic view of finding one’s own right path.
That aside, the ways that we directly converse with our students - during classes and in those moments before and after classes - largely determine the success level of the overall communication between us. If we take a commanding attitude over our students - telling them to execute this or that posture, at this or that time, never leaving space for them to ask questions - we convey that they must seek their answers in us. On the other hand, we can ask them meaningful questions, encourage them to ask questions of us, and offer various modifications of separate postures (also emphasizing that they are more than free to choose of those what they think is best for them).
Those actions send them the message that their inner knowing has value, and is even important for finding what is truly right for them. All of that communication is also possible before and after our classes, if we arrive early and stick around afterwards. Even our actions of leaving that space for communication and collaboration open, before and after our classes, is meaningful; it indicates to our students that their concerns, desires, stories of their experiences, questions, et cetera are worth that extra time to us. Those messages contrast Western society’s overarching message that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way decided by someone or something apart from themselves, with what is “right” being what they must strive for – their individuality inconsequential.
As yoga instructors, we are positioned to help them learn another, more fulfilling way of being and believing – one that is found within yoga. We can help them learn to respect their inner voices, and thus maybe even live fuller lives off of the mat. As an instructor, to me that is a gift – yet a place of responsibility. We instructors therefore owe it to our students to remain mindful of this dynamic, and perform our duties as instructors accordingly. As always, I’d love to hear your views on the topic, dear readers – so please comment below. On Shanti!
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