Monday, September 3, 2012

Learn as you go

Well, there  has been a lot on my mind lately and not a lot of time to sit down and write much of it down. We had a big week in Tucson with a fair amount to integrate and settle. I could say a lot about that but for now, suffice it to say we went fairly deep into a lot of the back story of my and Darren leaving Anusara yoga, where we find ourselves now as School of Yoga and where, the students find themselves in the midst all that has happened this last year.

The wake of the situation really blows me away these days and the ways that it keeps rippling through our lives is somewhat sobering at times. I have taught a full schedule ever since my resignation and all through the scandal and being on the front lines has meant that I have dealt with a lot of different people's feelings, thoughts, upsets, questions and so forth- both about my choices but also about John, Anusara, etc.

Another interesting dynamic at play is how unpredictable each group's needs have been relative to processing it. One week one group has no real need to talk things through and then the next week an entirely different group is coming apart at the seams. I think the issues really surface around teacher training since what we are doing with School of Yoga is a bit foreign to many who have been traveling down the road of "learning a system." I started to write that it has no real precedent but that is not actually accurate. There are plenty of teacher training programs that do not give a definitive "approach" or "method" when it comes to how they teach people to teach asana. However for someone who has been working within a system and gearing up to not just learn to teach yoga but to learn to teach a system of yoga, this new world seems a bit daunting and unfamiliar to many.

For me, as a teacher trainer, I watched for years all the great things that we offered students in Ansuara trainings and I also watched where the holes in student's knowledge were. I watched a lot of videos of certification candidates and could see how well the training program worked and how well it didn't. A lot of what me and Darren and Noah are incorporating into the early stages of our training program are our attempts to fill in some of the gaps of pose knowledge, sequencing, teaching methods and the intellectual understanding of asana practice, teaching skills and personal process as a teacher and a student.

 I also watched how the market of yoga shifted considerably over the last 12 years away from instructional, small class, Hatha-style classes geared to specific levels  to larger  all-levels vinyasa classes that are more practice-based. And this change in the marketplace was not reflected in our teaching training methods. We were often training people to teach in a way that would not translate to the situation in which they would be teaching and many times,  the certification standards did not reflect what an actual successful class would need to be like.

It might sound odd coming from me, given that I was so involved in the Anusara teacher training program but I didn't agree that the program was producing "the highest trained teachers of the most sophisticated system in the world" like everyone was being told. And I did say as much on the committees.

Nor did I agree that Ansuara as a method made it easier for the student or easier for the teacher. Most trainees told me they didn't really "get" the method until they had done Immersion, TT and then a second Immersion. To me, that is 300-hours of course work in addition to classes and workshops to understand something that is supposed to make teaching and practice easier. I am not saying it is wrong it took so much time I am just saying that, in my mind, is not easier. It may, in fact, be what it takes to actually understand the method and that is fine. I am simply saying that is not easier.

 I also did not agree that all you need in asana practice is broad strokes of alignment. While I think these broad strokes get a lot done, especially for the beginner, I think you also need the details of the discrete pose shapes and the  detailed knowledge of how those broad strokes of alignment  are to be applied to each individual posture's specific form.  I also think a more sophisticated understanding of pose shape v. action needs to come into play and even more specifically than that,  I think an important discussion relative to the UPA's is understanding the difference of when the action is energetic and when it is achieved biomechanically. For instance, shoulder loop can be done as an energetic flow even with the arm bones forward such as in mayurasana or full shalabasana or gandha bherundasana or Bikram's cobra or as an actual biomechanical expression between the lower rhomboids and the serratus anterior as in Anusara's cobra.  All that is in the method, I believe, so I am not criticizing the method, I am just saying that the broad strokes do not make that clear and if it takes a lot of time and effort to understand something sophisticated. In my mind A LOT of that was lost from understanding and application and the expression of the UPA's became more like  Anusara-slang  than Anusara.

And telling people something that is hard to understand is easy is a big set-up. I dealt with that a lot with students who couldn't grasp this stuff easily. They were told it would be easy but it actually isn't and so it sets up a very odd inner conflict for the student as to whether to believe the company line that it is easier or to believe their own experience that it is difficult or whether to think if it is easy and they can't get it then they must not be smart, etc.

Add to that that the standards kept shifting and so it was  bait of a moving target as to "what an Anusara yoga class was like" and "what qualified" and so many teachers were doing a fine job but feeling less-than-confident about their teaching and many were not hitting the mark but were unaware of the fact that they were not at the expected standard.

I could go on but my point is that while I think there were and are a lot of positives in the land of Anusara training and I personally benefitted a lot from my training in the system.  I also know that me and my colleagues helped train a lot of great teachers. All I am outlining is that I  never saw what we were doing as complete and/or  without significant missing pieces.

It has been hard to know how much of that to actually talk about over the last year as the emotionality has been so high. I seem to make the mistake of laying all that out and having people feel criticized or betrayed by me or the system. Or they feel defensive that what I am saying is not the case for them. And it might not be the case for everyone nor was it the case  in every corner of the Anusara world. I am simply saying I observed common problems and misunderstandings in the various trainings and workshops I gave and took and in the various videos I watched over the years. (So, these observations are MY EXPERIENCE, OBSERVATIONS and OPINIONS, nothing else.)

Or the other side of the coin is that I have failed to lay out my thoughts clearly to a TT group and they are stunned when the program I am offering is so different because they were expecting a more "Anusara" training from me and when they get the  more foundational work I think was missing from the Anusara curriculum, they feel like they are without their bearings a bit.   What I have to offer is a synthesis of my knowledge and experience which involves a lot Iyengar yoga, Anusara Yoga, Ashtanga vinyasa and Bikram Yoga. I am always doing my best to learn each system in the way it is taught and yet, I am also always running that through my already existing body of knowledge. Just so we are clear,  I am not going to Bikram Yoga and doing the UPA's. I am actually doing what they say, how they say to do it, asking questions and exploring new avenues of asana expression. And I have come to realize that while I think the UPA's totally work, I also think things that fall outside the lines of the UPA's also work. It is not one or the other it is both, in many cases. To me, that is not problematic as I love a good paradox. Many folks, I am learning, don't.

At any rate, one thing I know for certain is that this teaching yoga is a "learn as you go" process with a lot of "on the job training."One of the students on the TT in Tucson shared at the end that had she been expected to make a manual for parenting in advance of having her kids and actually living the work of parenting directly she would have been unable to make an accurate manual. What works in theory doesn't always work in application. I think about that a lot in reflection of some of the Anusara yoga melt-down. For instance, who knew that "a merry band" might become so full of co-dependency?  So many things, began with good intentions and high-minded premises, went down a different road in application. For all sorts of reasons.

Another student just posted in our Sequencing Webinar Part 2 Facebook group that "asana classes are never seamless. It is what we do with the seams that defines us as students and teachers". I think that is brilliant.

So we ended up having to lay a lot of that stuff on the table in a very raw and real way over the week in order to move forward as a group. I think it was productive and meaningful, although it was very intense as well. But hey, these are intense times.

Okay, wow, so time ran way from me and I have to get to teaching. No time for editing today. Sorry.


Laura Rooney said...

You always make me feel so sane! I appreciate your candidness once again as you put outer voice to what the voice in my head says. My practice and teaching has evolved through a strong Viniyasa background, formal education in anatomy/biomechanics/physiology and Anusara methods. I could not agree more with the completeness of your analysis of biomechanic and energetic movements and actions in poses. I love the totality of broad brush strokes and minute details being explored, understood and used (understanding there are lots of commonalities among us all, but we each have our uniquenesses to which to attend.) Nope, not easy but that is the challenge and fun of teaching asana.

Of course yoga teaching evolves - yoga itself evolves - everything evolves. To be relevant, evolution is necessary. Thanks :-)

Christina Sell said...

Thanks, Laura! Always fun to be in conversation with you!