Sunday, November 1, 2009

A person is not a car!

First things first: thanks for all the support on the big Teacher Training decision!  You guys are amazing, and it's totally lovely and flattering that I already have my own little cheering section!

Now that I've announced that I'm going to the training, I want to talk about something related to teaching.

One of my teachers recently reminded me of my one big potential weakness as a teacher.  I do not want to think of it as a weakness so much as a massive learning opportunity!  But here's the thing: I've been flexible for a long time, I've never had any serious injuries (knock on wood!!), no chronic pain, no arthritis, nothing like that.

< Pause for a quote:  "Here, wanna watch me tempt fate? 'Could this day get ANY worse?' See, I said it ironically, so I should be safe."  Major props to anyone geeky enough to identify that reference! >

Ahem.  So here's the thing: tons of my students are going to be dealing with issues that are purely theoretical to me.  I can understand it academically, I can sympathize, I can relate by analogy to my own experience, but at the end of the day, I still can't remember a time when I couldn't touch my toes.  So where does my credibility come from?  When I say, "yes, I know it's hard, but it will get better," I believe in it with all my heart, but it's from second-hand experience.  So this will be interesting for me.

A yoga teacher is essentially a human mechanic.  The job is to go in, identify the problem, and then rearrange the body in a way that fixes the problem.  In Bikram yoga, it's even simpler, because the protocol is already written.  Switching metaphors for a moment (sorry), the medicine will work even if you don't know the diagnosis yet.  So the problem of how to move the bodies is purely mechanical, purely technical, and it's something that can be studied and taught.  When a mechanic fixes your car, he doesn't need to know what it feels like to be a loose electrical connection.  He just goes in, finds the bad connection, and repairs it.  Problem solved!

Here's the only difference: a person is not a car!  (Sigh.  I guess that would make life more boring.  More simple, but way more boring.)  The auto mechanic doesn't have to worry about wire and gears and filters turning around and saying, "Hey, I can't do that!" and then doing their own thing.  He can bend and bang things back into shape without worrying about the pain and discomfort that they experience.  And he sure doesn't have to worry that the engine will get up and run away down the road while he's trying to fix it, never to be heard from again!  So while mechanical knowledge is wonderful (and essential), technical expertise alone is not going to get the job done.

I guess I will just need to keep listening, be compassionate, and be aware.  That should work.  But it's an interesting puzzle, right?  I will have a lot to learn.


Anonymous said...

Wait for TT. You'll tighten up, feel horrible, see people who are strong be weak, etc, and on and on. I'm guessing you'll learn what you'll need to learn.

Danielle said...

It is very true. Sometimes you get the 50-something year old woman that is overweight and hasn't worked on her body all of her life. And she will look at you and think "you have no idea what it is like to be me". And it's true! We do have no idea. But all you can do is encourage and share things that you have seen, how people have improved themselves, and inspire them to keep coming and change themselves. And when it comes to injuries, you know what... sometimes it is intuitive. The things you will end up telling people, you didn't necessarily learn anywhere. But you come to know they body, and you relate other bodies and situations to what is in front of you. It's amazing how much you know. even more than you think you do. And when you don't know, the best thing about this Bikram yoga community is that you can ask - and you'll get an answer. (And more often than not, you'll realize that you already knew the answer! You just wanted to give it with more confidence!)

hannahjustbreathe said...

Very interesting...

What I seek from my teachers, more than anything, is compassion and, funny as it may sound, companionship. I don't expect that they know everything or understand everything or even have an answer to everything. In fact, sometimes, I don't even WANT an answer! Rather, I just want someone to share in the experience I'm having, you know??

Duffy Pratt said...

You are letting your engineering background show through. If you don't like the car analogy, then pick another one.

How about the yoga teacher as gardener?

How about the yoga teacher as dog trainer? (there's more to this than you might thing, but I wouldn't tell my students that they were like dogs)

Yoga teacher as therapist? Sometimes I think that's what they are doing best, and therapists don't have to have suffered the nervous symptoms or psychoses of their patients to be some help.

The bigger problem with the car analogy is that, while the solution may be mechanical, getting the student to understand and implement the solution can be anything but. How much of what is holding students back (including myself) is nothing more than fear? Car mechanics never have to worry that the alternator is afraid to charge the battery.

Anonymous said...

You know, it's not really an issue of not having had an injury or illness or whatever. You're just young, and young people are at the same disadvantage in any field, especially a "caring" field. Your older students will already know this, and be expecting you to be shallow and idealistic. LOL. Your challenge is to LISTEN to them, be honest when you don't have all the answers, and let their experience teach you. In twenty years, you will still not have had an injury or illness (let's hope), but you will be a teacher rich with experience.

I'll also add that I look around at the young teachers, and sometimes I think they see me, see that I'm a bit out of shape, that my age is starting to show, and assume that I've "let myself go" or "never worked on myself." The truth is that life is not a straight path. Never assume. The overweight fifty-year old woman with arthritis who can't touch her toes could be a former olympic gold medalist who is just "starting over" after taking care of a parent with Alzheimer's full time for many years, while also raising a family. So always keep an open mind, never make assumptions, ask questions, and you will be fine.

Big G said...

Don't worry about not having injuries or whatever. Everyone has their own experiences and as a student I could care less if the teacher has similar life experiences to me. I want a caring teacher who pays attention to my postures and gives good correction. You'll be fine!


bikramyogachick said...

J~ Good doctors haven't had every disease or illness. You're going to be a great teacher because you LOVE this yoga and it shows in everything you do around it.

thedancingj said...

Wow, I am kind of humbled by everyone's collective wisdom!! Amazing. I will have to print this thread out for myself at some point.

Danielle, thanks for the teachers' perspective. I think you hit the nail on the head. (And yep, I do have some awfully good people on speed-dial if I ever get really stumped!)

Hannah, Michelle, and Greg, thanks for the excellent student's perspective. I totally forgot to think like a student, or rather I discounted my own experience as a student because I think that everyone else's experience is different. (And well, YEAH, we ARE all different. And we're all the same, too.)

Duffy - Bikram started it! He always uses the car analogies. Hehe. I LOVE the gardener idea, for more reasons that I can say in this space...

Anonymous #1 - HAH! Fair enough. Though it's not like I've never been totally stiff, sore, and miserable before. (15 years of ballet, ugh.) All that taught me was that I like yoga better... ;-)

Anonymous #2 - "Never assume." BINGO. You are SO right. You can come write this blog for me, now. The story you gave is a PERFECT example, and that is something that I think about constantly.

Blogging!! Cheaper than therapy! (Haha.)

Dorothy said...

A person is not a car, true, but mostly we're only looking for someone who knows what they're talking about - whether they've been through exactly what we've been through or not. You're going to be great!

lifelonglearner19 said...

J - you will be an amazing instructor. I wanted to post yesterday but didn't get a chance - How about teaching as teaching!

You will have compassion for your students no matter what they are going through. You will validate the struggle and the triumphs, I'm sure. You will enlighten mind and body even though your experience is probably different than your students'. This is why you've chosen to attend training - it's in you.

When I teach my freshman writers, I know for certain that my experience may have been different from most, but I do my best to help them along their own path, at whatever rate they're going. That's what you'll be doing, too.

I can't wait to hear more. I'm so thrilled for you! :-)

Mike Belanger, CSCS, FMS said...

I was just commenting on this topic yesterday to a couple athletes of mine. I don't understand what it's like to not be able to perform a push up or a full depth squat. But 75% of the people I work with are so messed up physically they can't perform basic body movements. I'm not sure what the answer is or where I'm going with this. I do find the more people I see the more solutions to inhibited movements I can lock away in my toolbox for future reference.

Cristina said...

That was a different way of thinking, hmmm,

What I want from a teacher is the ability to see my body and how I move and do things and be able to see that little detail and tell me my next step.

As you think of these things like 1/2 a year before you even start your TT I think you will have thought through a lot of stuff and become a really great teacher.

I hope I will be able to take one of you classes in the future.

thedancingj said...

Thanks LB, that was another GREAT perspective for me to hear. Teaching as teaching, how novel!! Perfect. :) You and Dorothy (and others) keep reminding me of the same thing - it doesn't matter whether I've had the SAME experiences, as long as I can be a good guide...

Mike, YES, you know exactly what I'm talking about. :) I think that what you're doing is the same as what I will end up doing. You just start to recognize patterns and build up a good toolbox of techniques. Can't imagine there's any better way. (Though if I THINK of one, I will let you know!!)

Cristina - it IS different, isn't it? I think like this a lot. Hope I'm not thinking TOO much!