Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Singapore Reflections

Noah and I finished our 6-day program here in Singapore yesterday. We had 3 days of asana intensive and 3 days of Teacher Training. I feel very good about the week and the program content we offered and it was a rich and varied learning experience for me as a teaching. The students are from various countries with various religious backgrounds and also with very differing yoga back grounds. We had experienced teachers from different methods and some students in the room who have never taught yoga. Talk about a mixed-level group! They were so fun and so sincere and funny. We had a good time and I learned so much about myself and teaching from sharing with them and being together. It was a great experience for me.

One interesting thread that kept emerging during the training was "What is School of Yoga" yoga? It is a hard thing to explain that right now there actually is not a defined method or style that is School of Yoga yoga, nor are we planning on doing that any time soon, if ever. School of Yoga Teacher Training is more about exploring effective teaching strategies than it is about asserting that the outcome of those strategies look a certain way. There is not a School of Yoga trikonasana. There is no School of Yoga Sun Salutation. There are some stylist presences that I have, that Noah has and that Darren has and some of those are the same and some of those are different but none of that is The School nor are we advocating A School of Yoga Way.

Let me be more specific for the sake of clarity:

All week we worked a lot with using Light On Yoga  to create a baseline of pose knowledge for the teachers-in-training to work from. Think about teaching yoga- there is so much involved-- from verbal cues to heart themes to hands-on adjustments to creating rapport to self-care to therapeutic applications, remedial postures, modifications and sequencing strategies. The spectrum of skills needed is wide and varied. But what we actually do as a yoga teacher, in a very fundamental way, is offer asana classes. That is right- we teach asana for 60-minutes or 75-minutes or 90-minutes at a time.  People come, dressed for gym class, expecting to do some postures and expecting to varying degrees to get a little help with the endeavor of asana. And sure, within the scope of an asana class we hope to be inspiring, kind, compassionate, interesting, and so on but, as I see it, the scaffolding that all of that stuff is built on is asana.

So-- we are using the images in Light on Yoga (LOY) as a baseline to create pose knowledge so that the students have a clear and objective understanding on the shape, the basics of how to get into and out to the pose, what the posture looks like, etc.  Without knowing that information, without having pose knowledge, the other teaching skills are hard to practice.

Take observation skills, for instance. If, as a trainer,  I say "talk someone into Virabhadrasana 1 and observe their posture and then offer a verbal adjustment to improve their pose" but the trainee doesn't have an image in mind of "Ideal Virabhadrasana 1" then how are they going to give improvements? What are they improving towards? When will they know if enough is enough?  And even if none of the students can do the full form, still the modifications will be based on what the student can do are relative to Ideal Virabhdrasana 1.

So sure, you can look energetically at poses and assess them that way,  but even still, one would need to know the ideal shape of a posture to know how much of which energetic principle would bring balance to the student's body and to the posture they were performing. For instance, how much inner spiral does the back leg need in any standing posture and how much of which of the 3 aspects is needed to bring balance to the form depends on the finished shape one is aiming at. For instance different amounts of Inner Spiral are needed in Vira 1 than in Vira 2 and that will vary person to person, depending on their unique posture.

At any rate, right now in our approach, we are preferencing pose shape as the organizing principle in our training.  And then the teaching methods--demo, verbal cues, observations skills, adjustments are all applied relative to the defined shape in LOY and aimed at directing the students toward that shape.  Here is the thing that is hard for the trainee  to realize right away, particularly if they have been trained a bit differently - School of Yoga is not about the shapes so much as it is about the clarity of knowing where you are aimed and about creating a disciplined, systematic approach toward the clarity of the shape you are aimed at but it is not only about the shape .

While we use the shapes and teach them as clearly as we can and we decide for 90-minutes in class or for 3-hours in a workshop that the shape really matters, the shape is somewhat arbitrary, in my way of thinking.  As I see it, the shape of the posture is important for two primary reasons- a) the shape has a power to shift one's state of being through harmonizing the flow of energy in the body and b) the shape is a tool to use to cultivate clarity, focus, discipline and appropriate self-expression. It  is my belief and experience that those qualities are necessary for a sane life that is in harmony with one's own deeper purposes.

And whether those deeper  purposes  are primarily physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual --or some combination of those four domains or something else entirely--doesn't really matter so much to me, to tell the truth. I leave that in the hands of the student/practitioner to decide for themselves.  They also get to decide for themselves if what I am offering serves their purposes or not. Anyway, the main point is know what the aim is and work on actualizing it.

Fo instance, my asana practice is largely the physical arm of my spiritual practices. I do it as my primary form of exercise. I meditate and I practice mantra and puja and do spiritual study and seva also but when I do asana I actually want a conditioning effect for my body. See, I do not jog or bike, lift weights or otherwise train my body physically. So I have a very physical aim in asana. It is not my only aim with asana and it is not the only benefit I receive from my asana practice, but asana is the exercise arm of my overall sadhana. (ultimately i do not think the physical is separate from the spiritual and all that but I am speaking on a practical level, not a metaphysical level right now.)

So I have no issue with people who do asana for physical reasons. I mean maybe they go to church on Sunday and Bible Study on Wednesday night and have a prayer circle they are part of already and the physical part is actually what is missing in their lives. Who am I to say, in such  case, that physical reasons are lesser or that that person does not have a spiritual approach? So it is not so interesting to me to police the reasons why someone practices or to ask them to conform to my reasons or outlook.

Having said that, I figure that I also have the things I want to talk about as a teacher and so the student either has to like that or be willing to make what they do not like "white noise" or be willing to find another class to go to that is a better fit for them. No problem with that either. The thing I learned long ago is that my class and my approach  is not for everyone, I cannot change what I do so that it works for everyone and I am a happier teacher preaching to the choir than I am trying to convert the masses to my way of thinking. I like teaching the people who  want to learn what I am offering. That is just me. You might be different.

So anyway, we were working so much with the shapes in LOY that the students thought School of Yoga yoga = hands in upward prayer, not upward hands with fingers spread wide, for instance. That is kind of funny because I could care less about that and I think good yoga is done in a variety of "finished" forms. What I think "teaching yoga" involves is having a clear picture in mind as a teacher about the shape and helping the students come as close as they can given their bodies to the shape I have in my mind. What I think being a good student is is doing my best to do the form my teacher has in mind that day. For instance,  in an Ansuara yoga class I am happy to spread my fingers wide. In a Bikram  yoga class I am happy to make my fingers "like a pack of pencils".   Honestly,  I think they are both effective shapes for different reasons.

So if, as a teacher, my picture of the posture I am teaching has "shoulder width arms overhead with spread fingers" then I want to look out and see that in the room. If my picture for today has "arms overhead with palms touching" then I am going to be working to get everyone to do that. Where School of Yoga training comes in is to give teachers lots of effective teaching strategies to help teachers do that work in their classes,  not in defining, once and for all,  what the teacher is supposed to look out and see.  School of Yoga trained teachers, however, will be encourage to be clear about what they are teaching and why and will be given an education to help them develop that clarity.

But we also have to keep in mind that in a training, we need a baseline of form to use to practice all the teaching skills since they are all relative to that simple task of executing postures. Remember from earlier in this post--How can I tell someone to practice observation skills if they are not observing their students posture relative to some ideal? How can I tell them to modify something if there is not a point of comparison? etc.

So, anyway- We are hoping to provide a yoga education, which obviously has its influences and biases but we are not attempting to advocate one particular position as "the position"- be that position an asana or a philosophy. These techniques we present in teacher training can be applied to any shape and and any system to increase the efficacy of one's teaching.  And lest all this sound dry and "pose-oriented" keep in mind that this is for asana class, not a commentary on how everyone should live their lives and obviously we spent a lot of time asking people about the Why of teaching yoga and their larger aims as a teacher. That is another full post but as I see it, there is the Why we do it, the What we are going to do and the How we are going to do it. Those three domains of any endeavor are always present.  We worked with that in training like this:

Why- deeper reasons for teacher, mission statement, aim, context for teaching, for yoga, personal philosophy of teaching, resins why you practice yoga, etc. THE DESIRE TO HELP OTHERS

What- the knowledge of the subject itself, knowing the posture, the pranayamas, the CONTENT of class.

How- how you are going to teach a class, teaching methods, modifications, sequencing, rapport, themes, and every teaching skill imaginable.

And if you still have a few moments- check out the scenes from the asana intensive:


Terra said...

Right on right on- keep doing your thing! I hope to be able to jump on your train at some point as the whole idea behind School of Yoga resonates with me. Gotta get you to Colorado Springs and I gotta get to San Marcos :) Love & Light! -terra

Christina Sell said...

It would be great for you to come to San Marcos! I know you would love it.