Monday, April 18, 2011

refelctions on teaching

So for the most part, I am keeping up on everything except for this blog, which seems to be a bit neglected. I am not so sure that I have anything profound to say this morning but I thought I could at least check in!

I think because Kelly and I have been taking SCUBA lessons since my return from the last fee trips, my time has just been extra full ever since I got home. We are up again early today, having breakfast before we will head down to San Marcos for our first open water dive. I am enjoying the lessons and learning a new skill. And as always, I like being a student. And as always, being in the seat of the student and learning something brand new is giving me lots to reflect on as a teacher. (Like remember, Christina, learning something new is not easy- genereslly, people are trying very hard to do well!)

I spent the weekend in Corpus Christi teaching teachers training there, which was very sweet. Ww worked a lot this weekend on how to teach yoga to beginneeprs, which was fun. After lots of examples the students seemed to really make progress. Oe of the things I was really trying to get across to the trainees is the diffence between teaching yoga and leading a yoga class. I think both are fine but I think it is essential that we know which is which and how to do both.

What I see a lot of out there is leading yoga: "step your foot forward, turn your back foot in stretch your arms over your head...Vira 1. Breathe here and go back through the vinyasa..." I think that is totally fine for students who know the postures, who are familiar with the transitions and so forth and the yoga teacher is there to hold space, give reminders, keep people focused, pass on a tidbit of insight, inspiration and so on. I have no problem with this at all and I love to go to a class that is led well. In fact, it is tedious to learn something from square one (or to feel obligated to teach something from square one if the group is on square five. So this is not an absolute thing i am saying here. For instance I want to be able to say (and I do) andI want my teachers to be able to say (and they do) "handstand", or "vira 2" or "set up for shoulder stand and go up" if the group knows the pose in question.)

I just do not think that that is teaching and I do not think that talking people through a sequence is particularly effective for helping people really learn and understand the art of yoga and most beginners won't have a lot of success achieving the postures in good alignment without a more directive, instructional "how to" approach. Also, even experienced, advanced practioners can deepen their understanding and refine thei practice very effectively with such an approach. That is my experience and opinion of course, and not everyone agrees,which is fine.

So, the thing is that I learned yoga in the way that I am describing- methodically, step by step, with lots of relevant information, demonstration and hands-on help. As a teacher trainer I have had to learn that most folks in my trainings did not learn yoga that way at all. They learned by simply following along and doing the best they could within an all-levels, vinyasa-style setting. For years, I did not understand why my trainees did not know how to break the postures down and present them and I could not figure why, no matter how many times I said, "teach the component parts" they didn't know how to do it! Finally, I got it- they had no experiential frame of reference for what I was talking about. So now, I spend a lot more time modeling the "how I would do it" and giving lots of examples of how to break things down and give step by step lessons to trikonasana, supta padangusthasana, vrksana and so forth.

And throughout the weekend the trainees kept saying, "wow, I am learning so much in this beginning class! I wish I had had a foundation like this, I can see how valuable it would be!" so that was fun. And I got watch the lights go on and some connections get made about teaching vs. leading and that made me happy.

Yes, there is doing yoga. There is learning to teach other people to do yoga. Then there is learning to teach people to teach yoga. Each scenario has it's own learning curve, it's own skill set and while there is overlap between scenarios, it is not exactly the same thing and I have certainly been through a process with these different scenarios over the years. And as much as I love teaching and as much as I think I am pretty good at it, I have to say clearly and out loud that none of it has come easily to me. Honestly, this particular kind of teaching- yoga teaching that is, where we are part gym coach, part inspirational speaker, part psychologist, part minister, part friend, part cattle prod, etc- is just not easy and will ask each one of us to stretch beyond what is comfortable, easy and habitual every time. all that is why I like it but I must say nothing has kicked my ass quite like this job. (of course nothing has given me as much delight, meaning and joy either!)

One thing I have been working on a ton this last year is really observing where my students are in their understanding and experience so that I can effectively respond to what they need. In looking back over the mistakes I have made as a teacher and as a teacher trainer, a lot of my mistakes, frustrations and failures have come by not seeing clearly what my students really needed. The more I can get out of the way and really be in First Principle (open, receptive, without expectations and sensitive) the more I am able to recognize what my students need.

All right, well, more on this later. Time to go breathe underwater!


Barefootlotuss said...

As a student, I love that Anusara Yoga has a discernible method that is "taught." The strong community of Anusara Yoga teachers and practitioners here in Austin working together offers a rich environment for practice that keeps getting deeper through application
of foundational principles. I acknowledge and totally love how thoroughly you, Christina, break
down asana to make it available to all. By doing this you have raised the bar on service.

On the subject of observing students, the notion of really seeing clients to understand them in their practice is a special skill that distinguishes a teacher.

If just "do more kidney loop," for example,was the key to how I express a pose as some teacher's
have emphasized, or if straightening my leg could happen just because someone is telling
me to do it, my practice might be perceived a lot differently than it is today even after years of steady
practice. How to translate the method into my own body/mind/spirit is what keeps me coming back. . when a UPA is served up in a one size fits all manner I sometimes
wonder if I'm invisible.

Eric said...

Christina, Thanks for these thoughts. They help me be a better teacher.