I had a great time last night up at BFree Yoga. I taught the Level 3 Vinyasa which is always a blast. The folks who come to that class are always a lot of fun to work with. They are generally hard working, light-hearted and very courageous when it comes to trying new things. Given that I am guest instructor for that class and we extended the class time a bit, I took some liberties with the format and after we had worked very hard for a while I offered some demonstrations, partner assists and some trouble shooting to help folks out. There was so much capacity in the room, I hated to let a good teaching moment go by without offering some tips for improvement. I joked that my teaching style that night was "flow-ish" meaning lots of flow but also some long holds, some demonstration and explanation and so forth. We had a great time and I left very inspired from the time there. I always do. We had a good time with a foray into rajakapotasana, eka pada rajakapotasana, urdhva dhanurasana, dropping back to urdhva dhanurasana and standing up. Loads of fun.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the way that we actually learn yoga and the way that we teach it and how different trends in the marketplace affect both the teacher and the student's role in the process. I was talking recently to a colleague about the function of group practice. I was reflecting about how when I first took yoga classes the classes were totally instructional with lots of explanation, demonstration and a ton of "how to" and refinement was involved. I am grateful I had that kind of introduction to yoga because it provided a great foundation to the practice, to how to study the subject and how to learn. And even in the early days of my Anusara training we spent a lot of time "learning" the method through demonstration, partner work and what I affectionately refer to as "come-watch-asana." I still love being taught that was from a good teacher.
Over the years the trend of public yoga classes has moved more and more away from instruction-based classes toward practice-based classes and vinyasa-style practice. I personally like vinyasa yoga and have a great time practicing like that and so this is not me grinding an axe about either approach or positioning one style above the other. I am being a bit of a yoga sociologist or historian at this point. At any rate, the practice-based class is awesome because the doing becomes the teacher and the students have a chance to really feel the flow of the practice and the conditioning effect of movement and so on. And when a sequence stays fairly similar or even the same over time, less demonstration is needed because the repetition is teaching the refinements instead of each class providing something new that needs to be learned. Also the student gets a chance to gauge their progress and change against a sequence that is not changing so much. Lots of value in this approach for sure.
So anyway, none of this is a new consideration and I have gone over these things before. Suffice it to say there are pros and cons to both ways and we all have our preferences. Why I got to thinking about this again recently is that a colleague of mine was talking to me about introducing a group practice at a studio that has never had a group practice. We got to talking about what the best approach would be- the keep the moving approach v. the explain some things and see if they can go into new territory approach: the practice-style practice or the instructional-style practice.
I was reflecting how when I was introduced to group practice with Desiree Rumbaugh and John Friend, it was when the classes were really instructional and so the group practices were more doing- based and with the extra time allotted and the focused group intention we got into deeper, more advanced territory and applied the information we had learned in class. Classes were for learning and practices were for doing. Now that classes are more doing, I was wondering if group practices actually need to be a bit more instructional in many cases.
Of course, it is never one way or the other and there is no need to make it some rigid thing. I personally know that it is possible to have classes that create a great practice, a good conditioning effect AND provide some valuable information about how to advance in one's practice. I know it is possible to have practices that do the same thing. One thing that drives me crazy these days is being forced to make it one way or the other. I have had such a diverse education in the asana practice that it is impossible for me to say that one way is best. I really feel like I have benefitted from many different approaches and from many different stylistic influences. My asana practice is a combination of instructionally-based classes and workshops, practice-based classes and workshops, LOTS of time on my mat alone with a timer and Light on Yoga, group practices with my teachers, group practices with my students and a lot of study as well.
At any rate, my love of group practice has been rekindled lately and my appreciation for hard work, done intelligently and passionately over a long time with others is burning brightly these days. Next weekend we have some classes and some group practices on the books down in San Marcos and I am scheming about some ways to establish some ongoing group practices and resources for practice here locally as well as via some online technology for those of you farther afield, so stay tuned for that.
All right, more soon.