T is for Teaching Yoga

The teaching of hatha yoga has evolved considerably, from the ancient approach of a guru working with a person individually, to the availability today of large classes of students robotically performing asanas, to everything in between.  Diligent searching will identify a class appropriate for just about anyone.

There are two perspectives on yoga teaching -- teachers’ and students’.  To state the obvious, nobody wins when a student and teacher have different and irreconcilable perspectives.  There is not a need for Right and Wrong, but there surely is a need for agreement.

One teaching approach is a partnership with students:  teachers bring their expertise in a certain style of yoga and experience with a variety of students and situations, while students bring their bodies, minds, and personal background and interests. The specifics are not important.  The goal is to have the teacher and student work well together, so the only requirements are mutual respect, common purpose, and willingness to make an effort.

Another, fundamentally different, approach is the teacher as commander.  The teacher directs and the student obeys.  (Note that this approach, and the partnership approach, do not depend on the size of the student class.  It can be one student, or it can be a hundred.  The point is the approach.)  The commander approach can be subdivided into two styles:  instructor and exercise class leader.  The instructor teaches through description, example, and repetition by students; the intention is education.  The exercise class leader directs students through asanas, often participating too; the primary intention is the experience.

There are few black-and-white situations in the world, and teaching styles certainly have nuances beyond the above paragraphs.  However, it is also true that 95% of yoga teacher-student relationships can be classified into 1) the teacher as partner vs. commander, 2) the commander-type teacher as instructor vs. exercise class leader.  Both students and teacher need to recognize and accept the nature of their relationship, or it will not be effective. Krishnamacharya said, "Teach what is within you. Not as it applies to you, but as it applies to the one in front of you." This seemingly straightforward statement with subtle levels of meaning remains an excellent summary of the teacher-student relationship.

Finally, let’s turn to the mundane mechanics of a yoga class (one or many students).  “You” can be either the teacher or student.  Do you like the class area, the studio?  The lighting, the arrangement?  Do you like music with your yoga?  Or chanting?  Do you prefer silence among fellow students or a degree of light conversation?  Is the class too crowded?  Too many young people?  Too many old people?  Is the apparel appropriate?  And so forth.  As the saying goes, life is too short.......    Find a class you enjoy, whether you are teaching or attending.

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