I was in a meeting yesterday about some yoga business and one of the women in the meeting joked about how bossy people get attracted to teaching Anusara Yoga. She was kind of joking and good-heartedly teasing but you know, the thing is, that we do not call this "being bossy." We call it "taking the seat of the teacher." I explained to her that our certification standards actually require that the teacher be clearly in charge of the classroom. Not only is the certified teacher supposed to know all the right things to say about getting into and out of the poses, but they are supposed to make sure that their students are actually doing it. If all the right things came out of my mouth but none of my students were translating my instructions into their bodies, I would "fail the test." For instance, it is not enough for us as certified teachers to say, "Now everyone take your arm bones back." We are expected to look around, make sure people are doing it, help those who are not and we do not move forward until the first instruction is implemented well because all subsequent instructions are dependent on the groundwork being laid properly. I guess this is being bossy but I do not really look at it this way.
I got to thinking about who my first yoga teachers were. They were brilliant, long-time practitioners who, by the time I met them, had practiced yoga longer than I had been alive. They were so knowledgeable and so experienced that they really did know way more about my yoga than I did. I wanted nothing more from them but to be "bossed around" because their bossing me around yielded such fantastic results. Even to this day, I go to teachers who will tell me what to do based on the fact that they do know more than me. Never once, have I known more about my shoulder injury than John Friend. Never once has my own insight exceeded his about any pose. I am happy to be bossed around because he is, in that context, The Boss.
Douglas Brooks talks about this aspect of the teacher student relationship as deference. He suggests we make a conscious distinction between deference and submission. We can defer to someone, by choice, who knows more than us. This whole thing of "you know what is right for you" in terms of asana is a slippery slope, in my opinion. In the ultimate sense, that is true. We are our own teachers. But our ability to access the deepest wisdom within is contingent on many factors such as seeing ourselves clearly, understanding the vision of said task, having a true understanding of the pitfalls challenges and delusions that arise along the journey, etc.
So in terms of the average asana class we do need to be clear about whether we are not deferring because that person does not know more than us or if we are not deferring because we are unwilling for someone "to be the boss of us" for an hour. Allowing good teachers to be the boss of us can take years of our learning curve. It is just an expedient way to go. For instance, if I want to learn how to do a deep back bend, I am going to ask someone who can do it. I am going to rely on their testimony because they have travelled the path before me. Too often I hear people teach things in yoga that they cannot do and their information is only half the story because they have only made half of the journey.
And the funny thing is that most of the people I work with mentoring in Anusara Yoga are not bossy enough. A huge part of honing one's self as an Anusara Yoga teacher is eliminating words and phrases from our language like "if you want to", "if you can", see if you can", "if it feels right to you," "maybe add some tailbone" and so forth. In fact when I taught in front of John he suggested that I could be even more direct and he said I do not need to say "please". (And I am a pretty direct teacher, so give that some thought.)
One thing that I heard that BKS Iyengar said was that "When a student is in my class I want to control their mind for the whole time they are under my supervision." He didn't mean this as a control-freak thing or some "I have to boss people around because I am so insecure that I cannot deal with not being in charge". He meant it that if he was in charge of their minds, then he could direct their attention to the highest state of yoga and away from their smaller personality concerns. He could, for the time people were in his care, give them a break from themselves. That is all.
Now, I am not interested here in the argument about how "yoga is a time to come and do your own thing and just have your own time for yourself" and all that. I am not disagreeing with that approach to yoga. All I am saying is that is not an Anusara Yoga class. People come to our classes sometimes and wish we said less or which we just left people alone and that is just not our way. So the people who enjoy Anusara Yoga the most are the people who really want to come to learn how to improve and who can, for an hour or so, defer to some one's expertise. And the beauty of it all is that there are a lot of classes out there where the teacher will let you do your own thing and not get in your world at all so if you want that they are easy to find. But it is not really our way. I made the kind of progress I did in my practice because someone helped me and corrected me and showed me how I could break through my preconceived limits and false barriers. And it took more than a little bossing around!