Sunday, June 05, 2016

Prioritizing in Yoga Instruction

By Kathryn Boland 

Have you noticed that you have “priorities” when you teach – as in focusing on some aspects over others? Do you find this to be helpful? In a class that I recently took, the teacher would offer cues and then say "Priorities". I think that framing yoga instruction around the ideas of priorities, of certain things being more important than others, can be an effective teaching tool. When I was an Undergraduate and Graduate Writing Tutor, I was trained to see these things as "higher" and "lower" order concerns. 

In this view, writing higher order concerns are clarity of meaning, flow of ideas, and the strength of the writer's argument. Lower order concerns are grammar, syntax, and paragraph organization. In the same way, there are "higher" order concerns in yoga practice - safety and quality of experience, I’d say. Lower order concerns, in my view, include moving on to increasingly advanced postures and depth of expression in different postures. 

That's not to say that those things aren't meaningful - they are, just as good grammar means something when it comes to writing. It's just that strength of argument and content, and staying safe while having an enjoyable experience in asana practice, mean more. If students injure themselves attempting postures that they're not yet ready for, then it doesn't help them progress on their journeys towards achieving those postures. In fact, injuries can cause delays in asana practice because we need to give our bodies time to recover (or else they won't). And none of that is enjoyable, to say the least. 

As we all also know, asana practice isn't about twisting our bodies into pretzels or balancing all of our weight on our hands - it's about what we learn about ourselves, and how we grow as people, on the way towards those achievements. If we remind our students about "priorities" in their practices, we'll help them to stay connected with that very important truth. They might then come to practice more for their overall well-being than for getting into "Instagram"-worthy postures.

On another level, framing things in "priorities" can help them to practice their asanas in a way that most effectively targets the goals of a particular posture. For instance, a key "priority" in Plank Posture is engaging the low belly and energizing the whole body so that the heels travel away from the head. For Triangle Posture, it's keeping length through the spine by finding the appropriate depth of expression as well as establishing a firm base from the feet to the hips. There are countless other important aspects to these postures - but we'll only overwhelm our students by trying to deliver all of those to them. Key into what will help your students practice asanas in the safest and most effective possible ways, and guide them in those.

This approach can also make our hours teaching a bit more manageable. You may have taught classes wherein you felt like there was so much you wanted to adjust with each individual student that it began to stress you out! I suggest taking it back to priorities. Us writing tutors would try to focus the time in sessions on the "higher" order priorities - for instance, letting a grammar mistake go in favor of improving clarity of meaning. There's only so much time in each tutoring session, and only so much time in each yoga class. 

And any kind of student, be it a college student with a writing assignment or a yoga student, can feel discouraged if whomever is instructing them keeps telling them about things that they need to improve. As instructors, it can help us to notice things that could use work, and then - if safety isn't an issue - let it go. Prioritize. You'll likely have many other things to discuss and work out with your students. It can sometimes also be nice to just have silence, just the sound of breath. Students can savor that even if they're in a Triangle Pose that's not classically "perfect". Practice makes perfect, but - with the question of whether or not perfection even exists - practice makes better. Let that be enough. Prioritize. And then watch your students, and yourself as a teacher, blossom and flourish.

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parvezbdjsr said...

Framing yoga instruction around the ideas of priorities, of certain things being more important than others, can be an effective teaching tool. Thanks for sharing this informative article.

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