Thursday, March 8, 2018

For Teachers: Yoga in Your Om Language

Image from the Berlin Wall, 2017
            When yoga instruction is spoken aloud, much more than direction is conveyed. What you say is laden with how you say it. The entire experience of the student, beyond what they are instructed to do, is colored by how those directions are delivered. Given exactly the same sequence, two students may leave two differently instructed classes; one feeling curious, inspired, uplifted and empowered, and the other feeling critical, negative, sore, tired, and probably crabby.

            Ahimsa, the Sanskit word usually interpreted as “nonviolence,” is the essence of yoga. It is the very first of the ten ethical guidelines of yoga, the yamas and niyamas. Ahimsa is more accurately translated as “nonviolation.” Not only do you not harm, you do not move in where you are not invited. This is foremost in the ethical practice and teaching of yoga.

            The ego is a fragile thing. When the teacher’s self-importance moves out ahead of the message, a power-over dynamic is conveyed. The teacher, subtly conveying his or her superiority through language, sets up an energetic that augments instructor’s self worth. Meanwhile, the student’s self-worth is diminished.

            In Japanese martial arts, the sensei is the teacher. Sensei implies “the one who came before.” The sensei always has in mind that just because she came before, it does not mean that she is more enlightened. Her job is to prepare her student to be the next sensei. Our work is the same in teaching yoga.

            Yoga is best offered with an open hand, not a fist. Consider how subtle changes in delivery can empower the student:
            Instead of “I want you to,” try “I invite you to.”
            Instead of “pull your knee toward your chest,” try “draw your knee…”
            Instead of “push your foot out to the side,” try “press your foot…”
            Instead of “stretch your foot toward the ceiling,” try “extend your foot…”
            Instead of “grab your left knee,” try “clasp your left knee…”
            Instead of squeeze, crunch or tighten, try compress, hug, embrace or cradle.
            Try elegant words like elongate, lengthen and tone, instead of stretch.
            Try words like allow, feel, notice, inquire, ask your Self.
            Pose questions, such as “What’s happening now?” and “How is this side different than the other side?” and “Where can you let go a little bit more?” Then give those present space (silence) and time in which to explore the self-inquiry.
            Instead of “Go ahead and…” or “Now I want you to…”  Try starting each directive with a cue on the breath. For instance, “Exhale, take your right knee to your chest and clasp your knee. Inhale, extend your knee away,. allowing your belly to rise. Exhale, draw your knee in toward your chest, allowing the belly to draw in toward the spine…” Get yourself out of the way and out of the picture. Move yourself to the background. The focus is not on you, but on the student.     
Teacher's Hint: Record yourself teaching a class. You will learn so much. Namaste!