In the yoga teacher training course, we asked the question: what fears and insecurities do you have around teaching yoga? These posts will be a response to those fears, hoping to support you on your yoga teaching journey.
1. NOT KNOWING THE BENEFITS OR REASON FOR CERTAIN POSTURES
In some of the older yoga manuals, the descriptions of some postures are very interesting and eye opening. For example:
Mayurasana – Verse 30
Taking support of the earth with both hands and placing the two elbows along side the navel, raise up high from the earth like a stick. That Asana is called ‘Peacock Posture.’
Results of Mayurasana – Verse 31
Mayurasana rapidly destroys all diseases of the glands, abdomen, etc. and balances the humours of Vata and Pitta. Stimulating the fire in the belly it completely digests all stale, dirty, and indiscriminate food. It digests even the Kalakuta Poison.
If I was a new yoga student and a teacher told me that was the benefit of doing the pose, I’d probably be confused, scared, and think the teacher was a little bit crazy. And since I want my students to trust me, to believe me, and to know that I am always speaking from my own experience, I would not be able to say these are the benefits of this pose (if I could remember them).
So what do we say. It is helpful to students to know why they are doing pose. Sometimes we all instinctively get it, we can tell when a pose is strengthening or stretching a certain area. But in the cases of other poses, benefits can be more ‘esoteric’. We hear about poses working with certain chakras for example, or “balancing humours”. Some poses have benefits for which it is difficult to have direct experience, like shoulderstand, which is said to be good for the thyroid and the lymph system. Who among us knows this to be true?
Let’s turn this fear around. What are the benefits of Yoga poses? How can you share with students the benefits of what they are doing?
- Go inside. Feel what is happening for you in a pose.
- Be honest with yourself about what you are experiencing. Try to look at the sensations, emotions, challenges like a detective. Keep inquiring within.
- Practice the pose over and over. Sometimes within one practice session, or over weeks and months.
- Notice what you feel is happening over time and be honest with yourself.
From this place you can start to share the benefits of a pose. You don’t have to memorise, you don’t have to make anything up.
Honesty and Authenticity
For many students and teachers the honesty part of the equation is the most difficult because we don’t know how to honour and listen to our own feelings. But it is more than valid to say that the purpose of a pose is to warm the body, to feel your fingers, to connect to the length of your whole body, to find balance, to challenge yourself. The purpose of a yoga pose can be that it is fun, pleasant or enjoyable. It may even be that the purpose of a pose is to sit with it until you can figure out why you are doing it. Of course you can say, I don’t know why we do this pose, but it is probably better to use that not knowing to fuel your inquiry.
As you ask yourself these questions in your personal practice, you might notice that the same pose has different purposes on different days, or at different places within your practice sequence; A sun salutation at the beginning of a practice might be to warm up, whereas a sun salutation later in the practice might be to balance out the body. When you share your reasons for doing a pose, your teaching becomes more authentic and accessible. Not every student will feel the same benefits as you, and by sharing your truth you are inviting them to find their own. And it is likely that the student will feel you are more trustworthy, honest and real than one who can only parrot what they’ve learned in a book.
It is so often quoted, but as Pattabhi Jois said, Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory. In this case, it means the answers to the questions are in our doing of the practice, and not in any books. Do your practice. Teach from there.