Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sometimes "Less" is More

I spent this past weekend in the most glorious yoga bubble.  My studio just hosted a student seminar (Saturday) and teacher seminar (Sunday) with my mentor Diane.  It was a weekend of non-stop yoga awesomeness.  Almost impossible to describe.  I can still feel the bubble, actually - it hasn't popped, it just expanded when everyone left our studio and went back to their homes, their states, or their travels.

The students are still buzzing about how awesome the seminar was and how much they learned.  Everyone learned something different - "I learned that I can balance if I really concentrate," "I learned that it's better to stay with the class," "Class goes by so quickly now," "I learned that my triangle is actually pretty good!"  And we teachers have all sorts of great new information to share with the entire studio.  I gave one girl some new advice on a shoulder problem she's been having, and on the way out, her mom said to me, "I think you just gave us more than we've gotten from 8 doctors."  Information is so powerful!

As a precocious but new teacher, I cannot imagine a better learning exercise than this, which is what has happened for me:

1.  Go find a supportive studio to teach at.
2.  Teach there full time for 8 months, teaching approximately one third of the weekly scheduled classes, so that you really get to know all the students.
3.  Teach by the dialogue, nice and clean, to the best of your ability, including personal corrections.
4.  Get your studio owner to book a senior teacher for a seminar.  (This part takes some advance planning, since senior teachers tend to have full schedules.  We got lucky - Diane had a cancellation and we jumped the line.)
5.  Get all your awesome regular students to sign up for this seminar.
6.  Put all of your students in room with expert teacher.
7.  Sit back.
8.  Watch. And. Learn.

Wow, seriously wow.  What a terrific education.  It's like I've been building the foundation for a house, brick by brick, and then someone came along and said, "Hey, great foundation, this is going to work perfectly... and now here's how you build the house!"  A bit artless, but that's the best metaphor I can think of right now, and I'm not going to wait for a better one to come to me.

I'm a little bit lost for words.  It's hard for me to convey what a joyful experience this weekend has been. Language always has this problem - at its best, it is still just a finger pointing at the moon, never the moon itself.  Strong emotions can't be captured.  But if I had to chose a few words?  Grace.  Stillness.  Energy.  Compassion.

Love, of course.

And I feel confident, not in a reckless way, but in a steady and quiet way.  Because I can see the path laid out before me now, and I know what I need to do next.

Here's what I learned (and this lesson is going to guide me for many months now): it is so easy for students to do too much.  In Diane's estimate, about 3 out of 10 students need to use their strength more, and the remaining 7 out of 10 are being over-aggressive in their practice.  I didn't truly understand this until I saw how Diane worked with my students.  In so many cases, they were pushing a little bit too far into pain, trying to do something that the body wasn't quite ready for, and they needed to be pulled back a little bit.

Need an example?  Pranayama breathing.  Lots of people at the seminar with neck pain, way more people than I thought.  (Because you know, students don't always tell us these things.  Some of them tell us way more than we need to know, and the rest don't say anything at all!)  I've just been teaching pranayama by the dialogue, which includes (on the exhale) "look back until you see the wall behind you," "spine straight, no backward bending," and "push your head back until your neck hurts a little bit."  But - as it turns out - lots of people with neck pain are pushing the head back more than they really ought to.  Yes, you should try to see the wall behind you, but "spine straight" is more important, and "hurts a little bit" (which means discomfort but not really pain) is most important.  Clear as mud, right?  So for a lot of people, the correction was to "do less."  Do less, do less, do less.  Only to tolerance, not to pain.

That's just one example, of course.  (And I hope it's clear and correct - I'm just giving my interpretation here.  Diane, feel free to butt in if you ever read this!)  There were plenty more examples like this throughout the day.

At this point in my teaching journey, there are certain things that I know how to do.  Number One, provide correct information.  Check.  Number Two, provide encouragement and coax students to do more.  Check.  But now I have a Number Three: get students to pull back when they are doing too much. Oh!!

I've done "number three" to a small extent, but I've never made it my main focus before.  Now it is coming right to the front of my consciousness, and it raises so many questions - how do I identify when someone is pushing too much for their body, which postures and clues do I need to look out for, and how do I address this issue smoothly, within the class?

And of course, it is still important to encourage the class and to push the students who need a push, so I really need to figure how to push and pull, equal and simultaneous, 50-50, all within the structure of the class and dialogue.

Ooooh, this is so exciting!  And it feels so right.  This is just another puzzle piece falling into place - click - helping me become a better and more mature teacher.

Last winter, when I was staying over at Diane's house in the middle of a snowstorm, I picked up a book from a shelf and flipped through to a random page.  I don't even remember what the book was, but I remember what I read (and I may have mentioned this before).  There was a passage in the middle of the book that said: As you do less, you can accomplish more.  Eventually, you reach a state where you do nothing and achieve everything.

Well, I haven't gotten to that state yet - when that happens, I suppose I will levitate and disappear in a ball of light and never type on my little old MacBook again.  But "do less, accomplish more."  Yeah, I get that.  I think I can learn how to teach that.

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