Some Thoughts on Teaching
Over the last few years I have gradually been changing my method of practice and teaching from one that has Ashtanga yoga as its foundation to one that is rooted in traditional Hatha yoga and ancient breath practices. As a result I have seen students undergo deep and profound transformations that my previous teaching method was not able to elicit in quite the same way. Here I will try to give some insight into why I think this change has come about.
To some degree, today, yoga has become a consumer product. The teacher has become someone who smiles nicely, is always happy, and will give you a nice shoulder massage during your relaxation at the end of class
(of course, these actions have their place in the correct context, for example a student in trauma my need reassurance and extra attention in order to feel safe, though nothing makes a student feel as safe as strong boundaries). The teacher provides a service which pleases and in which the participants of the class are unfortunately transformed from students to clients. Such a dynamic leads to a situation whereby
the success of a teacher, and the health of a teacher’s self esteem, is often measured by how many “clients” the teacher has in her class and how well she has met the expectations of the students. Of course we live in a capitalist system and therefore profit must always be taken into account if the teacher’s career is to be made sustainable. However, the combination of a need for economic security and an unacknowledged psychological disposition towards people-pleasing can leave a teacher in an often stressed and compromised position. This inadvertently cheats the students of the maximum benefits of the yoga practice. I write this not to point the finger but to highlight the uphill battle faced by so many in today’s financially driven world to maintain integrity.
It seems incredible that such a situation could arise given that the teachings of yogic texts attempt to steer us away from exactly these mental attitudes encouraging practices of non-grasping and non-attachment to outcome. Challenging old patterns of conditioning requires the student to venture into places they normally do not want
to go and thus an unconscious people pleasing attitude of the teacher will not aid this process to occur. Given that nearly all of us have had far from perfect childhoods this is indeed a great challenge. Therefore, as a teacher of yoga, it is important to let go of the need to be liked and to please so one can allow the student to sit with their discomfort without needing to make them feel better. As the Bhagavad Gita states:
‘You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not
entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be
the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to
In other words, we must do our duty but we should not be concerned with the results of our efforts. As teachers we must impart the
teachings to the best of our ability but let go of the need for the student to obtain pleasure from what we teach in order to bolster our self-esteem, as we also let go of the anxiety connected to financial losses or gains.
This translates into the greatest skill a teacher of yoga can possess: the ability to hold space without needing to fix the student; the ability to give undivided, unfragmented attention, for isn’t that what
love is after all? Only when a teacher can let go of the future outcome of his work can the greatest healing occur. It is only in the
last few years that I have recognised these particular patterns in myself and been able to adopt a mental attitude of non-attachment to the outcomes of my students’ practices. I believe this has had the most positive affect on my classes and has created an atmosphere conducive to the stilling of minds and the safe and gradual release of
old emotions and stuck energy.
Inspired by my teacher Archarya Venkatesh, these days I will very rarely adjust and use fewer words so the student has space and time to simply be. In this way they are free to feel whatever arises and let the yoga posture work its magic without over-interference on my part.
Of course I still see my patterns of wanting to please but at least now I recognize this particular blind spot quick enough to stop it
taking me over. It is not difficult really, its simply going slowly so as not to react unconsciously. Thus, both student and teacher are protected from the dysfunction of each other’s pasts. Both are free to feel whatever arises in the present moment. I think that’s what yoga is.
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