Sunday, November 06, 2016

One Special Thing in Yoga Instruction and Practice – For Ourselves and Our Students

instruction and practice
By Kathryn Boland

In a prior article, I discussed ways in which I experienced a time as a yoga student when it might not have all seemed worth it, but one very valuable thing I gained as a practitioner made it all more than worth it. I’ll now discuss similar experiences as a yoga instructor, and how we can facilitate our students gaining these types of experiences – and thus keep them coming back to class for more! 

As one such instance, one time I experienced travel issues getting to a private student. I felt rushed and stressed. When I got there, and we began the lesson, she was unfocused and difficult to guide in practice - due to some significant personal issues she was going through at the time. Combine that with the fact that this student pay me at a discounted "sliding-scale" rate, and part of me couldn't help but question if it was all worth my time and effort.

At a certain point though, something clicked within her, at least for a bit. She found a certain integration and alignment, leading to a smoothness and command of her breath and body. It allowed her to achieve a level of stability and depth in a few postures that she never before had. I unabashedly commended her on that. I was genuinely fulfilled and proud, yet also hoping the positive reinforcement might encourage her to more consistently be mindful towards her practice, like she was able to at that point.  She does manage to come back to that focused, integrated state at certain times.

It wasn't necessarily easy, but I could keep my mind honed on what she achieved then - rather than let that part of me asking "Is this worth it?" take over. If it did, I might discontinue working with her. That would certainly be a loss for us both (for her in that she can't otherwise easily access or afford yoga practice instruction).

This idea also applies to our continuing education as yoga instructors. We might come away from workshops, classes, and trainings gaining one, two, or a few significant pieces of new knowledge. If we undervalue those things – small in number, yet potentially vital to our professional growth - we might think the time and money we invested wasn’t worth it. We might stop seeking such learning opportunities - and thus, for the most part, stop learning. We at least won't learn nearly as much as we could. Or if we focus on things we might feel we did "wrong" while teaching certain classes or lessons, we might get significantly discouraged. If we instead focus on something that’s improving with our teaching, even if only one thing, then we'll keep at it - continuing to seek learning and growing as teachers. If it was possible once, why not again?

We can apply this concept to our teaching itself in certain ways. Aiming towards one particular achievement makes a strong case for "theming" classes around a specific concept, idea from yoga philosophy, "peak" pose, or group of postures. It’s true that "balanced" sequencing, adding a little bit of everything, can lead to an overall feeling of wellness and contribute to whole-person health. On the other hand, being more specific with our themes can guide students towards one very notable achievement, something that they can solidly come back to and feel successful about.

In another way, students often feel down on themselves for not achieving certain postures, or even for remaining unfocused. We can boost their confidence by guiding them to re-frame their thinking. If we can encourage them to instead focus on one, or two or three things that they achieved, they’ll more likely keep coming back to their practices. And who knows, maybe that one thing will change how they practice, for the better, forever. As Patanjali clarifies for us, that type of perspective shift is powerful, because it can lead us to contentment; "from contentment, incomparable happiness is attained" (Yoga Sutras II.42).

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