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The Heart of Teaching Yoga (…and discovering the secret to the meaning of ‘advanced’)

in For Teachers, YD News, Yogitorials

In Yogitorials
by Chrissy Carter

I meet tons of people in my classes everyday and have the privilege of guiding their practices and watching them grow. A few weeks ago I met Susan, a 68-yr old woman who came to YogaWorks on a Groupon. Susan introduced herself and announced that she has a torn rotator cuff, scoliosis, and arthritis in her knee. She has flaming red hair and wears a teal-colored Bakelite Buddha on a chain around her neck. Susan spends half of the year in New Jersey and the other half in Florida where she practices vinyasa flow (she’s been practicing yoga since the seventies, following along with Lilias Folan on TV). I could see right away that she was a diligent and devoted practitioner, so when she asked if I taught privates I happily obliged. I worked with her three times over a week and while I expected to teach her my usual ritual of alignment, I found myself sharing something much deeper.

Susan has so much passion for yoga; her curiosity is limitless. While we went over specific postures (“Am I doing this right?”), we spent a good deal of the time just talking. As I heard her tales of trying to keep up in the fast-paced vinyasa flow classes she takes in Florida (populated by twenty-something bendy-flexies) my heart went out to her. “I can’t get my head to the floor in this forward bend,” she said, straining to prove her point while demonstrating Prasarita Padottanasana. “That’s the goal, right? Everyone else in the class can get their head down. They’re so advanced.” She told me how she feels lost when the teacher leads them through fancy arm balances or complicated transitions and how she feels “less-than” for using props. She said that she loved my classes because I was so real—I admitted that I couldn’t put my head on the floor in Prasarita Padottanasana.

Susan’s tales from her yoga practice started to churn something up inside me. When she told me that she often cries in the car on her way home from class, my heart simply broke. “Sometimes I need windshield wipers for my eyes,” she whispered. Here’s this devoted student of yoga—the owner of every yoga DVD on the market—whose relationship with the practice is, on some level, built on the premise that she’s not good enough.

I think Susan’s story speaks to the state of teaching offered out there for mass consumption. Yoga has exploded, infiltrating the daily lives of regular people all over the world, and it’s influencing the relationships we have with our bodies, ourselves, and our spirituality. The asana practice has struck a chord with the American population, and I firmly believe that it has provided a door through which students can walk and unknowingly, some day in the distant future, begin to explore themselves in more conscious, thoughtful ways. While Susan’s personal experience is with power vinyasa flow, I don’t believe this to be about style or lineage, but rather about how yoga is being communicated to students.

I can relate to her frustrations, both as a student and a teacher. Back in the early days of my practice I mostly fended for myself, trying to decipher statements like, “If you have a headstand practice, you can come into the pose now.” Utterly confused, I would ask myself the obvious question: And what if you don’t have a headstand practice? Are you supposed to try and figure it out by yourself, or are you stuck on the yoga bench for life?

Susan’s feelings of inadequacy confirm and motivate my efforts to teach teachers how to teach. There are too many goal-oriented instructions floating around the yoga atmosphere. Teachers are (knowingly or unknowingly) teaching people to fixate on the end destination—what the pose “should” look like—without providing their students with the necessary road map or skills to get there. Perhaps teachers don’t realize just how much power lies in their words—that the vast majority of students will do exactly as they’re told, entrusting the teacher to guide them through the infinite, murky world of yoga.

“Fold forward and place your head on the floor” results in a sea of bodies—some flexible and some tight—doing whatever it takes to follow orders. As a result, inflexible students will compensate for their tight hamstrings by rounding their spines and straining their necks in the name of achieving the goal. Flexible students risk repetitive stress injury to the hamstring attachments because they’re sinking into the pose without being told how to engage their legs or compact their outer hips. After all, they’ve reached the “goal”, and are therefore ignored (or praised) by the teacher.

It’s important as teachers that we explain the hows and whys of what we’re teaching. How does one actually do headstand? Why is it important to lift the shoulder blades and broaden the collarbones? If we can convey both the mechanics and the reasoning behind asana, we can empower our students with the necessary skills and knowledge to practice with intelligence. When students are given behind-the-scenes access to a posture, they are able to work and progress in the pose while honoring their personal strengths and limitations. As I encouraged Susan to lengthen her spine in Prasarita Padottanasana, she realized that in order to prioritize the opening of her chest she had to lift her torso away from the floor. The result was a beautiful display of consciousness and clarity, to which I responded, “Now that’s an advanced pose!”

My hope for Susan is that, through acceptance of herself, she will find the confidence to do her yoga. Susan reminds me of the tremendous responsibility we as teachers have to teach the heart of the practice. As teachers we convey more than just posture; we’re teaching students to value integrity, honesty, discipline, and acceptance. The classroom is the laboratory where we begin to understand that how we do anything is how we do everything. If students approach asana with aggression and impatience, how then will their yoga practice penetrate their everyday lives? If teachers encourage the destination at any cost, they are teaching that yoga is finite and that the process towards said destination is of little consequence.

In working with Susan I remember why I love teaching. Yoga is a state of union with the Self, not as we wish it were but as it is, perfectly, in this moment. It’s only from this place of profound self-acceptance that we can move forward. How lucky are we, as yogis, to get so many opportunities to practice self-acceptance? Luckier still are the teachers who have the privilege of guiding others through the process. After all, isn’t the process itself the destination? Thank you, Susan, for reminding me what it means to be an advanced yogi.

Chrissy is a senior teacher, teacher trainer, mentor, and anatomy teacher at YogaWorks in New York. Passionate about teaching intelligent yoga with clarity and compassion, her approach fosters curiosity, playfulness, and self-inquiry. She travels internationally to lead workshops, retreats and continuing education for students and teachers. Chrissy has appeared in Yoga Journal, The New York Times, and Whole Living Magazine, and is a featured teacher on GaiamTV. Her blog, H(om)e, is a source of inspiration for those looking to take yoga into both their kitchen and their life. She’s grateful to Mark Whitwell and Carrie Owerko who inform and inspire her teaching. [yogachrissy.com; @yogachrissy]

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37 comments… add one

  • Karen

    But there is something you don’t understand here. I also leave the class in tears because I am made to feel wrong and inadequate by what goes on in class. But I don’t want to ‘do my own yoga’ in class, I can do my own yoga at home. I want to participate in the class. I have paid good money and used my very precious time to take a class, and the teacher does not make it possible for me to participate. Why is it that the teacher has me in class, sees that I can’t do the poses, but still does not either change the class or tell me that the class is not for me?

  • Usually lack of facility with the process and inexperience.

    It is a skill that a teacher needs to learn.

    Most trainings start by teaching a given sequence — and using that sequence to teach the individual postures, to teach the theory of sequencing, and to an extent, the “motivational” aspects of teaching yoga.

    But it doesn’t get to the real adaptability process. It took me a couple of years to learn how to teach “on the fly” and in response to exactly what was in the room at the time.

    These days, I can turn a sequence on a dime, seamlessly for the most part, based on what I directly observe. But, not all teachers are capable of that, and so using a sequence that is a “tried and true” for them makes it possible for them to teach something that will “generally meet everyone’s needs.”

    In addition, it may not even be the postures and the sequence, but how it is taught in general. When the training focuses on ‘inspiring’ the students, people focus on what inspires them. “advanced postures” or “esoteric language” is often brought up — but this isn’t really “ground zero” of inspiration, or what inspires most people.

    Ground zero is validation. You are ok, as you are, right now. That’s really radical acceptance. The *teacher* has to radically accept every student *as they are in the moment* and when they can do that, and validate that person in the moment for it, then the *way* that they teach the group is entirely infused with this acceptance and validation.

    And then, there’s also a clearer understanding of limitations — both of the teacher and the student — and there is a validation of those limitations. The dark side of this may be “being too conservative” but the dark side of the “fun, exciting, inspirational” class/sequence is this issue of not being validated and accepted via the sequence or the teaching.

    End of the day, this is a skill. A lot of people don’t yet have it. They will. Give it some time. Those of us who have been around the block several times understand that “inspiration” starts with radical acceptance of students (and ourselves). And we are looking to help teachers live it and teach from this place.

    And when they do, then they’ll learn to become facile with their sequencing theory (“on the fly”), and be able to adapt it based on who is present in the room.

    Until then, keep looking around for a class that works, let yourself off the hook a bit and itemize what you do like about the class experience (as well as what you don’t), and keep practicing. We’re getting to work on our profession, I promise. :)

  • Emily

    Yes, this exactly! While I loved my teacher training, I learned the most about sequencing from watching my students. Now, after almost four years, I’ve finally become comfortable with the aspects of teaching to anyone who walks in the room, like you said. Teacher trainings are necessary for the learning of anatomy and the basics of sequencing (via vinyasa krama), but I don’t see how it’s possible for student teachers to get enough teaching practice in these 4-week, 6-week, or even 6-month trainings (hell, mine was a year long and it still wasn’t enough!)

  • Agreed. As a student who needs multiple modifications (due to both flexy-bendy AND arthritis!), I have learned in my very short teaching career that “your” yoga doesn’t mean that we’re all going to grace the cover of Yoga Journal…

    My instructor has taught me: “Your head should go TOWARD your knees” and the like – give the students the general idea but encourange them to not push their edge.

    Only then can the students be comfortable. I’m in a year-long training, and I’m confident that while my certification may be done, I’ll be a “learner” during the entire time I’m a “teacher.” That’s a very good arrangement, in my opinion!

  • Dayita Angelis

    I think that the whole method of our presentation of yoga has problems, and now that I am working through YTT, I am becoming even more convinced of it. In this, I have been blessed with a teacher who has been practicing and teaching yoga for quite a long time, and he keeps bringing us stories from “the dark side” – as it were – with his own mistakes and how he has seen the teaching and practice of yoga change over the years. In short, he contends – and I’d have to agree from my own experience – that you can’t effectively teach yoga to more than a handful of people at a time.

    On top of all this, you have the tension between asana practice – which is pretty much just an on-ramp to the deeper practices of yoga, the western mind-set within which we like to feel that we are “doing something”, and the people who are in class primarily as a fitness workout. With such a wide audience present in most classes, the teacher’s job of attending to individuals is extraordinarily difficult.

    Since each teacher makes a different set of compromises between these things, I would suggest you just keep looking until you find oen that really suits the kind of practice you want and gives you the attention you need.

  • I know this is a late response, but I just saw this piece. I agree with what Jenifer and Chrissy say. But I also understand that you as a paying customer expects results. I realize that a lot of classes are packed but very often I tell students that I will be there ahead of time and stay after if they want to talk about any poses. During class, I usually look for the people who seem to be trying too hard or who might have not made any progress. The frustration on their faces is obvious. I ask them if they can stay back so I can go over a few poses. Your instructor may not know how to approach you, maybe you can ask her or him to keep an eye on you, adjust you and help you go deeper, ask if you can stay back and go over a couple of poses.
    We do have a staggering number of new teachers out there who lack experience but whose heart is in the right place. They may simply not know how to approach you or they may have not noticed you.
    I suggest you start the conversation and if the response is not helpful, you should change teachers or studios.

    We have also come to a point where there is almost too much yoga around. One of the advantages of that, is that a lot of studios also offer workshops specifically for backbends or twists, maybe you can attend one in order to learn more. Maybe your studio will give you a discount to one of their own workshops since you feel a little frustrated with your lack of progress. In the end, I suggest you make the first move towards your own growth. It might make everything else click into place.
    Hope it helps in some way.
    Namaste.

  • Vision_Quest2

    You start from a false premise.

    If a student wants results, they should go to a proper class, not a workshop.

    The student could be guided into home practice, practicing poses they did not “get” in class. This is what yoga teachers traditionally wanted: home practice.

    What they want now? An opportunity for an upsale.

    The function of the group is to be in community. That’s what a student is paying for.

  • Laura

    If that were my experience I would look for another class. I have a great teacher who is inspiring, encouraging, accepting…I feel blessed. She tells us to do “our Yoga”, or asana, more to the point, not our neighbours, not hers. She gives cues for alignment, muscle, fascia, area being impacted and if we need modifications, well lo and behold, she provides for those too.

  • yoginibunny

    thank you so much for this. after first irritating my right shoulder then injuring left wrist this year, i have been shifting away from ‘goal oriented’ yogasana to a more holistic, nurturing, and ‘advanced’ practice.

  • Ahhhh, this post makes me feel good about the language I choose to use while teaching – offering multiple options, telling people to go only as far as their body allows, etc – because no one is the same. No one has the same abilities as another person. So, to treat people as though they should all be able to do the same yoga practice is a mistake.

    I love this kind of feedback from yoga students – they deserve the ongoing evolution of their teachers, in order to make yoga as accessible and interesting as possible.

  • Kate

    I think sometimes good teachers are pressured by their goal-oriented students, too. In one class at a retreat I attended a few years ago, the instructor saw that some people were having trouble keeping up and slowed things down so she could be sure to get around and help as many as possible. I was doing ok, but still considered it on the vigorous side. At the end, a woman said to the instructor, “Wow, I’m surprised at how easy that was. You really dumbed it down.” It may have just been that particular group, but I’m reluctant to attend retreats now because of the general air of competitiveness I felt that weekend among the students, which the instructors had difficulty dispelling.

  • VQ2

    I’m not goal-oriented. I just have a home practice. I want to pick the teacher’s brain. I am under the impression that workshops attract primarily home practitioners in this market era, anyway. So why be so surprised that someone thought something was “dumbed down”?

    I’ve done the same.

    This is true mostly for slow-moving practices, however, which aren’t SO old-school that you have to go into child’s pose (unless you want to): Consider that if a teacher teaches–for instance–an arm balance that I couldn’t do for a very long time, if ever, that I learn: (1) a little bit about my tight hips; (2) a little bit about cantilevering my body weight, (3) a little bit about patience, (4) a little bit about humility [without being a victim or guinea pig--I have learned that I have to keep my eyes open while practicing in a group in case of an overzealous teacher. Though I really, REALLY wish for a safe environment where I could keep my eyes closed while practicing even something not too easy or too-tricky-to-adjust ...]

    Not goal-oriented. It could take years before I am doing the pose, maybe thanks to the seed that was planted (or maybe not).

    I don’t blame the teacher that thinks they don’t inspire the pose in me. It’s not their job to. I pay only for their knowledge, not their “sorcery” …

  • Cathy Lilly

    Chrissy and Yogadork,

    I agree this student has a beautiful spirit besides buddha pendant. She is doing better as myself and Dr Fishman are now teaching her asanas in a manner which enhances her healing process. She’s also learning what is contraindicated for her current conditions. A few points surprised her, but yes, she is so earnest to unlearn certain tendencies.

    Please note during these yoga therapy sessions the emphasis is not only on asanas. Each class finishes with a practice of single point focus followed into meditation (dharana dhyana). Wouldn’t you agree much mental agitation can be released through practicing the limbs of yoga!

    I also went over what Yogaworks level and style classes were better suited for her.

    Namaste,

    Cathy Lilly

  • Cathy Lilly

    Hi Chrissy and Yogadork,

    I agree this student has a beautiful spirit besides buddha pendant. She is doing better as Dr Fishman and I are now teaching her asanas in a manner which enhances her healing process. She’s also learning what is contraindicated for her current conditions. A few points surprised her, but yes, she is so earnest to unlearn certain tendencies.

    Please note during these yoga therapy sessions the emphasis is not only on asanas. Each class finishes with a practice of single point focus followed into meditation (dharana dhyana). Wouldn’t you agree much mental agitation can be released through practicing the limbs of yoga!

    I also went over what Yogaworks level and style classes were better suited for her.

    Namaste,

    Cathy Lilly

  • Cathy Lilly

    This dear student described above (and others with injuries) I had in mind during my recent interview with Virginia Reed on Gary Null’s Progressive Radio Network. My own serious injury taught me how powerful meditation can be. A Woman’s Perspective: http://prn.fm/2012/07/21/womans-perspective-wonderful-world-yoga-072112/#axzz21hTl705a

  • tina

    something I don’t see mentioned is the breath. have we forgotten that, at its very core, asana practice is a breathing practice? that keeping the breath steady and even, stirasukha, connects us to the part of us that is One? THAT, to me, is “advancement” in practice- one quality to the breath, from tadasana to savasana. or samasthithi to “rest” :)

  • This is true.

    But there are also different perspectives on how to teach this. When I studied Iyengar style (with a cert. Iyengar teacher) — and it’s written into LIght On Yoga like this — you simply let people do the postures, and over time, the “breath will follow.” Not that you ignore it, but rather, you don’t need to be too explicit in instruction early on.

    When I studied astanga and other related vinyasa forms, we were taught ujjayi first thing, which was actually really intense and difficult to learn — for beginners. I’d already gotten it in my prior training, but it was taught to brand new students, usually on their first day.

    It’s mostly a different way of teaching — valuing something in a different way.

    Both forms say that the breath is important, but when it’s important to teach it, how it is taught, what is taught first, second, third — this is based on these different valuations.

    In the Iyengar training, it was about naturally finding the full breath. After the basics of being able to do some postures and hold still and keep the breath pretty steady, we were then taught the three part breath, and then after that taught ujjayi.

    What I learned in astanga training is that the movement is vigorous, and to align the pelvis properly and do the movements safely, the breath is most important — the positioning for the breath is really important. So, we teach that first — even though there’s no solid expectation that the person will “get it” right away. And, I noted that my teacher often taught three-part breath at the end of class (in savasana) to sort of “counterbalance” the strong ujjayi that we did through most of the practice.

    In my own teaching, I sort-of “bridge the gap” as I see it, but leaning more toward the iyengar way of doing things.

    Likewise, I “trade” mostly in beginners — the majority of my students are people who have been doing yoga less than a year, and a majority of that majority have been doing it less than 6 months. And a majority of that majority are at about 3-4 months.

    I do count breaths at times, I mention breathing in savasana and a few times in class (things like “see if you can slow your breathing down” or “notice if you are breathing heavily, as you would if you were running, and then see if you can get it slower.”). But overall, i mostly tend towards a STFU approach. That is, guide people into the proper alignment, and then be quiet.

    This allows people to ‘be’ and experience. ANd when they have comfort in those areas (or at least basic familiarity), I start to emphasize the breath. In classes where I have a majority of 1 yr plus students, I’ll do more breath emphasis. In classes where I have mostly newbies, I leave them. They will get it — and there’s so much thrown at them in those first months, that the breathing can often get confused or lost.

    I want it to be accessible — and as weird as it is, breathing properly *isn’t* as easy as it sounds. :)

    This method works, but it’s absolutely an “advancement” of the practice. :)

  • HJCOTTON

    I felt that my flexibility and my body has changed after menopause. I got my introduction to yoga in the Iyengar system, and I was fortunate in having a superb teacher who placed me at the right level, tried to push me a little over my limit and who never babied me. She wouldn’t even let me do pranayama when I got a major depression. My practice nowadays switches between Ashtanga style and Iyengar. I can do Ashtanga twice a week. However, If I were to do an advanced asana sequence like backbends, my body responds better if I do it the Iyengar way with progressive sequencing because of my age.
    Regarding teaching, it takes a certain talent to teach, connect with the students and convey the material effectively. It takes a certain experience for teachers to depict the weaknesses and limitations in their students performance and address them in a subtle manner without insulting them. An example in my case are the assymetries between my right and left side, my long torso and short limbs. I was taught to perform some asanas in a certain way because of my anatomical limitations from experienced teachers. My best teachers were the ones that were strict but fair with me.

  • Fabulous article, Chrissy. I couldn’t agree more with everything that you’ve said, and was really happy to come across your article ;-)

    In yoga — Jason

  • Lovely article, Chrissy. In the studio where I teach, we receive a lot of students like Susan who are recovering from car accidents, surgeries, or other physical elements that could be perceived as limitations. We teach in order to adapt the practice to them, inviting them to breathe into the poses right where their pain-free range of movement is today. Thanks for this encouragement!
    Renee, from Yoga on the Square in Pittsburgh, PA
    http://www.yogaonthesquare.net

  • Thank you for this. The community that can be formed in yoga classes can be as powerful as the practice. When a yogi is accepted for where they are in their practice, they feel more comfortable in their skin and their practice, opening them up to the community around them. I find that this is especially important to the over 50 crowd who is almost always looking for something more than asanas.

  • VQ2

    I’m in my late 50s – maybe I was going to the wrong classes becaue I was looking for a dynamic practice with spiritual (and no acrobatic) bells and whistles – fixed THAT problem by switching from group yoga studio classes to pilates (YMMV, of course) …

    With limited funds, the mind gets resourceful; and I traded out the spirituality for a little peace, mildness and dynamism in my practice …

    It’s commercial yoga’s loss.

  • Excellent, thoughtful article. This sort of reflection and inquiry is so important for contemporary yoga. Balance isn’t a permanent thing. We find it, hold it for a breath, and then renew our effort as it shifts. A healthy, awake yoga is always returning, always looking within, never thinking that all is known. Thank you.

  • Hi Chrissy,
    Thank you for a beautiful post. I am doing teacher training at Kripalu this fall, and your words really expressed why I want to teach. I have been lucky enough to have been taught for many years by a teacher who emphasizes breath, intention, meditation, and the engagement of the body in a pose rather than how a pose should look at its fullest manifestation. Inviting students to do poses a way that feels right to them that day and to find their own personal edge is such a powerful way to promote self acceptance. Hopefully I can become the same type of teacher! Thanks for the inspiration :)

  • Sondra

    Spot on, I am creating a link on my blog to this article so that my follows can share in the insights of student and teacher. BRAVO

  • Thank you for this. It was one of the most insightful articles I’ve read in a long time. And I think just by reading it I became a little bit better at my teaching. Will definitely take this with me into class. Beautiful!

  • Dear Chrissy,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I think it is a very important one. I have experienced it both as a student and as a yoga teacher. I think that especially in a (large) group class this can happen and maybe it is the nature of yoga in the US. I have felt like everyone wants to get to that place, but where is that place, I think to myself. I have learned so much in this area while teaching yoga at a cancer support center. I learned that what I thought I should be teaching was not what the students really needed so I got more training, read, and asked my teachers questions. One student commented that she had never been to a class that not one down dog was taught and was relieved to know that if we did have one I would give her other options. I feel, as teachers, we have to meet the students where they are at that moment in our class. Chrissy, thanks for helping students and teachers alike remember that a yoga class is much more than asanas.

  • Anne

    As teachers, we all need to remember what it is like to be a beginner and always have that “beginner’s mind”. It is also important to be mindful of the transformational language we use to guide our students. As teachers we can always gently recommend less vigorous classes and to those who leave class “in tears”, because you can’t do exactly what everyone else is doing…let go of competition and practice finding your truth. It is not always the teacher’s fault. Even the most seasoned students modify their practice based on how they feel that day. Also, with the popularity of yoga exploding, classes can be very large and it can be a challenge to assist each student. After class, ask the teacher for guidance. Namaste

  • Thank you Chrissy, for describing the practice that I encourage and that you and I shared in all those years ago! I believe the change you describe is only possible when teachers realize what yoga is and the part that asana plays in the 8 limbs, 4 limbs, raja yoga, etc. Teachers need to learn from teachers who understand that, so they can orient toward teaching it to their students. That is why a lineage of teachers who understand yoga — not just asana — is so important. The imbalance we see in the yoga business is in my opinion largely due to the lack of that continuity of mentoring from master to teacher. The yoga business has instead created hundreds of asana specialists. Keep up the good work, and I hope to see you soon! Shanthi om.

  • Ann

    One statement especially struck me:
    “The classroom is the laboratory where we begin to understand that how we do anything is how we do everything.”

    This same concept was presented (using similar language) in a recent weekend workshop I attended; I’ve added it to my classroom dialogue with hope that it will help my students understand that they are perfect right where they are and stop striving for the elusive “advanced” krama (sacrificing the essence of the asana in the process).

    Thanks for saying it so succinctly. With apologies, I’ll be quoting you in the future!

  • Thanks for this article. I took a few yoga classes years ago and stopped because the instructors were always pushing the end result and I got frustrated because I just wasn’t able to work at that level at the time. A couple of years ago I found a great yoga studio and the instructors were very much about working at your own level and honoring your body. For the first time I “got” what yoga was about and fell in love with it.

    Now, I’m a third of the way through the 200-hour YogaWorks teacher training program and this is a good reminder for how I want to teach and WHY I want to teach.

  • VQ2

    “I found a great yoga studio and the instructors were very much about working at your own level and honoring your body. For the first time I “got” what yoga was about and fell in love with it. ”

    I actually had found that at the gym, in classes based on YogaFit … never to be within spitting distance of that until I’d gone to a mild, old-school-like place … and I Yelped them positively to the skies!!

    No sense a place like THAT flying under the radar in the period Y.B. 6 months (6 months after the official yoga backlash in the NYT article and the John Friend scandal breaking)

  • Teachers sometimes rather teach a “class” instead of the persons that attend the class. I keep hearing this story time and time again from students not being able to “keep the pace” of the class. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? The class being adapted to the pace of the student?? It’s not about the teacher but about the journey of the student and we are there just to offer the tools while creating a safe environment to learn.

  • Silvia

    I think the most important lesson was lost. It’s not even about showing students HOW to get into the pose. The pose is secondary. Yoga is calming the fluctuations of the mind. Can you be ‘ok’ with not getting into headstand? Can you be ‘ok’ with the feeling that arise by not getting into headstand when everyone else is? This is truly a practice that can be taking off the mat into your life. Can you be ‘ok’ with not finding a mate? Can you be ‘ok’ with your feeling when everyone else has a mate and you don’t? Yes, teach people the physical postures step by step but more importantly make a real difference, a global difference, a life changing difference, by giving them tools to help end their real suffering. It was never really about the pose, look deeper.

  • VQ

    That’s all well and good if the price of the class is extremely reasonable and the teacher does not have much of an attitude.

    Else, why waste your time?

    I guess this is why they have class “levels” and why old-school practices rule (in the grand scheme of things, after the hipsters move on to something else) …

  • I enjoyed the article and the comments. I came to yoga somewhat late in life (mid-fifties) and I guess I was fortunate to find a teacher who lets everyone in her classes know that it’s their practice and encourages them to work at their edge. She freely offers adjustments and modifications for all levels and emphasizes that they are only suggestions. She always has people at different levels in her classes and I believe they all feel they are paticipating in the class

    I’ve had numerous “advanced” classes with her where the poses were quite basic but went deeper on levels that were more than physical. There a lot of poses that I may never be able to do and I’m okay with that. Asana is but one of the 8 limbs.

  • Amanda

    Beautifully written. I am not an instructor, but you have captured the essence of my experiences as a novice. I was describing the differences I had just experienced while practicing at a studio while on vacation to a wise friend – his response was ‘A teacher does not a Master make’. Based on my experiences thus far, the Masters are the ones who truley bring an Asana practice to the people. Keep it real!

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