Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Adventures in Teaching

One of the basic challenges any teacher, yoga or otherwise, faces is what to do about mixed skill levels in students. I label some of my classes "beginner," or "intermediate," but mostly I just teach open level, offering modifications for poses that can be used for students who are at a different level. This approach has worked well and become something of a trademark for me. Even in advanced classes now I'll still mention modifications for beginners out of habit.

I was surprised, then, when after one of my classes I received a phone call from one of my students (we'll call her Terri) that I've been working with for a while. She seemed agitated but it took a while for her to make the point she had called me to make-that she felt that one of the newer students was holding her back. The student was not a so-called "beginner" to yoga, nor had I singled her out at all during the class. Terri clearly just had a personal problem with her, and to be honest, that pissed me off. I really didn't know what to say so I let her know that I would try to give more advanced options so she wouldn't feel she was being held back.

After we got off the phone, I started to think about what I should have told her. I should have told her that yoga is not about competition. You shouldn't be mentally competing with the student on the mat next to you. You should be too focused on your breath, on your body's signals, on your instructor's words. I would even venture to say that you shouldn't even compete with yourself. Yoga is about honoring your body where it is right now, in the moment. That's not to say it isn't a terrific workout. When students need a better workout they may choose to do extra vinyasas or hold a pose as I explain something to those who need the exposition. I have no problem with that. When I next see Terri, I'm going to recommend that she do this if she feels she's being held back. Bottom line is, no one can hold you back but yourself.

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