Adjusting and cueing with respect and integrity

 

“All I know is that I know nothing”
–Socrates

 

When it comes to learning, nothing really gets so much to the point like the Socratic paradox: “All I know is that I know nothing”. I love these words because I think they are quite powerful, especially when it comes to conceptual knowledge. Learning often implies opening the mind to new possibilities and discharging old dogmas.

Did you ever feel like the more you’ve learned about a subject, the less opinionated you became? 

Within my profession, I have had inhabited a space of “not knowing” very often. I still do. It is not a comfortable zone because it can shake your self-confidence and it makes you examine so many things.

This is the place where magic happens. The place for real growth.

Over the years I have come to see how hard the first teaching experience can be for so many newly graduated yoga teachers. When I started my journey teaching movement as a yoga instructor back in 2010, I felt so compelled to teach the very little that I knew. My proficiency on the topic of yoga-asana was very limited but somehow, it was easy for me to start instructing beginners and friends as soon as I had that chance. Yes, I am aware that I was lucky. The truth is that I felt ready to instruct asana because my  conception was that in order to do so: all I had to do was to behave as a yoga instructor and tell people what to do. That was a piece of cake!

The dark night of the soul: When structure crumbles down

As an Ashtanga Vinyasa practitioner, in a way I had a stable platform from where to teach my students. I would instruct the same sequence of postures all-the-time. That would require good memory from me as a teacher but no too much creative input. Looking back, I feel that in many occasions, I didn’t give enough space for variations during my led class in a way that would fully cater the needs of everyone in the room. This was primarily because of my own inexperience and partly because I was aiming to keep the rhythm of the class. Also, I wasn’t well trained on how to find variations for the postures I instructed to my students, each one of them with their own unique body type.

Sometimes I would find myself giving a cue or doing an adjustment that I wasn’t very sure about, but I would do it because of one arguable reason: I was taught to teach it in that way. 

For example, I would often cue straight front leg in Utthita Trikonasana with back foot slightly turned inwards for everyone in the room. Did I know for certain that that was the healthiest way for the student’s body to move in each case? No, I didn´t. Was I taking into consideration the fact that everyone has a different and unique body structure? No, I didn´t. Considering what I knew then, I taught at my best and with my best intentions and often mimicking the way my teachers would do it.

I did try to encourage and help my students to bind their hands in Marichyasana C and D, I pushed their thighs towards the floor in Baddha konasa and I tried to cross their ankles behind their heads in Supta kurmasana, as if taking them to reach their edge in the pose was “the goal” to achieve. Was -to find a level of physical “depth”- the ultimate purpose of the yoga practice? Mmmm…I wasn’t very sure about that. I started an inquiry about the benefits of practicing and adjusting extreme asanas, some of which I saw they could potentially compromise physical wellbeing on the long term. As a teacher back at that time this questioning made me feel lost because many of the things that I “knew” about teaching asana started to crumble away.

Finding different routes 

During my first years instructing asana, I very rarely asked my students whether they wanted to be physically adjusted or not. I just assumed that they would be ok with having my hands on them. However, sometimes I was sensitive enough to notice that some people weren’t comfortable being physically adjusted. Subsequently, I started asking permission before adjusting more often and I became gentler. I gradually stopped “forcing” students into shapes using certain adjustments considered advance. I ceased practicing certain postures that felt somewhat too intense in my body. This was a very scary and uncertain stage for me as a yoga teacher.

I idealized the ability of doing physically challenging asanas and becoming a “good adjuster” as signs of good progress in my yoga career. 

I faced a turning point when I asked myself two very important questions: What is the benefit of putting my body in such an extreme position? Why am I adjusting others to do so? Thankfully, today my asana practice is different from what it used to be and so is my teaching. I like to think that I am gentler, freer, and more receptive. Furthermore, I feel less achievement oriented and as a result, I feel great and liberated about it. Do I feel the need of doing intense or very challenging asanas? Nope. However, I still find a great level of depth in my practice.

To the question “Why adjusting?” I found different answers and I regained a sense of purpose on how and why adjusting students in my class. I have been finding new ways and working differently for the last few years. Today I have reasons that resonates more with who I am when I give a certain cue or when I physically adjust a student in a yoga pose. I learnt from and was inspired by many great teachers along my path and I also learnt to discharge and let go of what did not serve me anymore.

-Manu.

 

References:

J Brown’s Podcast with Karen Rain
J Brown’s Podcast withGregor Maehle
Teaching Yoga by Donna Farhi
Andrea Ferretti’s podcast on Ending Sexual Abuse in the Yoga Community

Thanks for the editing to: Marymentxu, Jackie P, and J Brown.