What the Magic of teaching a Mysore program taught me
As Yoga teachers, we are guiding people on a path that we are still on ourselves. As my dear teacher Tiwariji says:
“The path of Yoga is like swimming across the ocean, and I – as the teacher – am only swimming a short distance, maybe five meters in front of the student.”
I like the humbleness of that quote. We as Yoga teachers should always acknowledge, that we are still learning and that we’ll always be a student first. And that we are blessed with the opportunity to share our experiences to inspire others that want to go a similar path.
I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to teach a Mysore-style class program where I can see and follow students on a day-to-day base.
As the students get to develop a daily practice and are consistently guided by a teacher, also for me as the teacher it’s a great way of learning about myself and becoming a better guide and communicator of the practice.
To show up every morning builds discipline. And the commitment to openly share all I know, to give my best to offer guidance to whoever shows up while keeping up my own practice challenges me to stay centered, to never stop learning and to keep the necessary ease and lightness in my approach to the method and to teaching.
I already shared some of the benefits that practicing in a Mysore class has for me (Read it here).
Today I want to share some ideas on how to become better guides as Yoga teachers, something that I ask myself everyday when I observe dedicated Yogis doing their practice in Mysore class:
Acknowledge and support the individuality of every student
I feel very strong about welcoming each person’s uniqueness. Instead of inducing uniformity of a certain practice upon students and telling them how something should be done or look like, I prefer taking whatever the student brings (flexibility, stiffness, strength, weakness, existing patterns – helpful or not) and support them to use it to grow their awareness and to be with whatever is there in each moment.
By acknowledging individual constitutions, challenges and personalities, we as teachers can promote the fullest unfolding of each students potential. In Ashtanga we use a proven method, but still need to adjust it to diversity of the student. This quote puts it beautifully:
“The forms of Ashtanga yoga are birthed, breathe, grow, die, and are born again… countless times in countless bodies.“ -Aliya Weise, AYSD
That’s the essence of the practice, a constant change of our external form – slightly different for every practitioner- that is carried by consistent breath and focus and that teaches us to find union in the diversity of form. Something that we then can go out to realize in all aspects of our life.
Be genuinely curious in each student and their path and be open to learning and being taught by each of your students as much as you teach them
The key to understanding the student’s practice is a detailed observation of the student as a whole: watching the student’s breathing, general posture and alignment, changes from one day to the other, eagerness, calmness of face and movement, attitude and mood etc.
From what we observe in the student, we can check back with our own practice and experience we had with other students. From there we can derive which advice to give. But we also find out what we haven’t understood yet as much as we’d need to. I think we can and should be open about our limits of knowledge and can be clear when we have no idea about something. We can always go and study more about something and then come back to a question and answer it after having educated ourself. That’s better and builds more knowledge and authority than making things up just to sound smart and knowledgeable!
From the way our advices are understood by the students, we can learn how to use our language better, which ways of communication work best. It’s always funny to become aware of language patterns we use which can be more or less helpful. For example, I always try to tell the student what to do (instead of what not to do). If I cannot make myself clear, I try to get more precise. If I don’t know how to get more precise and clear, I know I have to understand the technique even more and check back again with my own practice.
Students even might give us challenges that make us question our method of teaching and our experience and still we have to stay open to new possible ways to see and look at things, adjust the method to the needs of each student while keeping them challenged on their path and keeping up our ability to inspire them without talking down to them, staying compassionate in any circumstance. Any reaction that a student triggers in the teacher tells something about the teacher as much as about the student.
Trust yourself so your students can trust in your guidance
The best way to have trust in yourself and to guide others with ease is a strong rooting in the practices you are teaching, may it be meditation, pranayama, asana, or any other tool. If there is no trust and deep understanding in the practice from personal experience, then the transformational power of any advice or guidance is lost as the student can feel the lack of experience.
Each method is only so useful as you can make sense out of it. And that depends on your understanding which is relative to your experience with it.
Each teacher will become more inspiring, authoritative, mature and confident as they keep growing on their own path, stay open-minded, connect to the students and generously give what they know.
I believe that any guidance that is given with the intention of supporting the student’s growth, given from an open heart and mind and without any egoistic goal cannot yield a bad result.
To keep the conclusion short for today:
Learn something from everybody you interact and work with!
Share open-heartedly and selflessly!
Encourage and see pure potential in every person!
Know yourself and be confident!
Love what you do!