The traditional Teacher- Student relationship
According to tradition a teacher is compared with a tree, full of fruits, one who shares his divine knowledge with his students. There is a living dialogue between teacher and student. It is through discussion itself, that knowledge is born. There is not one who knows more than the other one.
To teach is also to study – to look and understand from a different perspective. Sometimes I wonder if what I will say will make sense to the practitioners.
At first, students can feel disorientated because the new cannot be defined in terms of the old. It is up to the students to use their imagination, and to tolerate the not knowing. It is an intimate and personal process. Experienced hands on “teaching” is important for helping the body respond to these new connections.
The practice, and the teaching of it, can be full of contradictions, often mystifying, but enlightening when the paradox is understood.
Sometimes a student understands a given explanation in such an interesting way that it lightens up the whole practice. The subject of the class itself becomes the teacher and learning takes place in ways that surprise us. We ask ourselves: What could and could not be altered? How much less? How much further?
It is not only a matter of the student grasping the truth of what he is told. The teacher also needs to catch something and keep catching it. He doesn´t have some fixed knowledge, but needs to discover it freshly at every moment.(Peter Kingsley)
This demands a teachers´alertness and attention must be focused and totally present.
…your teaching springs from your own practice, when something becomes clear in your own body, there is no analysis, only attention. From your practice, you can see and feel into another´s body and guide them intuitively.
…sometimes it is necessary to re-teach a thing its loveliness… (Galway Kinnel)
According to some theories of teaching (that I personally don´t agree to), the teacher explains all the subtle and most precise details and the students part is only to learn to recognize these details in herself. The students end up to be totally dependent on the teacher and on her explanations in order to be able to experience the depth of yoga. She cannot reproduce the instructions that she got because she didn’t learn how to access these details in practice.
I feel as teachers we have to direct our students to look inward, and to hopefully connect to their own true sensations in their body. It is about helping the students to explore the Asanas, discover pathways and connections throughout the body. I usually ask my students to explore, if what I explain is true for them. Another aim for me as a teacher is to demonstrate that they are engaged in a process, which will be evolving as long as they continue practice.
In my understanding a teacher´s job is to develop the student´s ability to see more clearly, to comprehend whatever needs to be understood from the Inside. And this includes possible ways of moving which are non-hurting and skillful.
How much should be taught?
One says: ” Only as much as the student needs, for her to discover as much as she can herself.” There is not one student that matches another one. Each one has her own process. As we learn to observe our body from the Inside, we see more and more.
An important component of teaching yoga is to encourage people to develop this kind of seeing. Many times, we don´t understand something totally, and we´re not really satisfied with the answer. It´s crucial to realize that if we don´t know, we should keep on asking and practice even more this seeing from within.
With reference to knowledge – the preceding word is the teacher. the following word is the pupil,their union is knowledge and their link is instruction. (Taittiriya Upanisad 1.3.2)
What to teach ?
The important thing is to teach the main practices – sitting, breathing and Asana – and to teach ways of working in these practices according to the principles of practice.
Even if the students only learn a small number of poses, you can leave them with a clear conscience. This is how we should relate to our students: as independent beings, even though they might need us right now.
Become a beginner
Building up a base, the groundwork, establishing the foundation of the Asana is not easy. With time this allows us to perform more challenging poses. Whoever has not gone though these basics, will suffer in the future from this weakness of the foundation, even if he can perform advanced poses. At a later stage it turns out to be very difficult to correct this weak spot. Be aware there is no substitute for a good and stable foundation ! It is like building a house. You want to make sure that the foundation is a good and stable, life-lasting one.
Allowing Choice – Be like a child
When we teach, we have to cast around for new ways of saying things, keeping our attention fresh. We need to use a round about way of thinking. Sometimes adjusting can interfere with a deeper understanding of the body, for both teacher and student. Learn to use your brain like a pair of hands to hold, direct an accompany movement. In time, hands acquire a new intelligence.
There are different approaches to the pose or to a certain pranayama. And it seems that everyone has a different practice that suits him best. As a teacher, it´s important that you are open to those approaches and are able to teach them, if necessary.
On the way to knowledge Many things are accumulated. On the way to wisdom Many things are discarded. Less and less effort is used Unitl things arrange themselves. (Lao Tzu)
Part of the process of learning includes doubt & questioning and we should at all times encourage the student to be OK with that.
Am I suppose to feel this?
Where do I locate my breathing?
Is my back still wide and full?
Am I really experiencing rooting?
Can I feel the weight sinking or shifting to one side?
A deep practice is by nature explorative and not mechanical. It is not dictated from the Outside. We observe, we witness, we understand , we listen and try to accomplish. This kind of dialogue nourishes not only our body but as well our Self.
If we give to detailed instructions, we limit the possibilities of understanding and the student won´t experience the connection in himself, because he is told what to feel.
The same counts for questions. Sometimes it´s good NOT to answer but instead leave space for experimentation avoiding to become too narrow.
Experience the deep bound between teacher & student and
Suggested literature on teaching:
Orit Sen- Gupta :Yoga Insights; Reflections from a life of Practice.
Diane Long & Sophy Hoare: Notes on Yoga