How You Practice Informs What You Practice, Part I

There are different models of teaching and learning open to those who want to practice Yoga. Each one invites a particular kind of learning and requires a different skill set for the practitioner and (if there is one) for the teacher/facilitator.

In writing this and other blog posts, I can toggling between ‘visual’ and ‘html’ modes. The ‘visual’ is the pretty, end product mode. The ‘html’ is the behind the scenes innards of the page which is less sexy to look at but gives you access to the infrastructure that underpins the site.  This post will err on the un-sexy side; it will be more ‘html’ than ‘visual.’  In thinking about some of this ‘behind-the-scenes stuff’ I hope we can identify areas that we want to enhance, modify or augment.  We might also see more clearly the differences implied in each form of practice and identify ways to better help practitioners navigate from one practicing environment to the next.

I’m sure I’ll miss key aspects but hope that you’ll help me see that; together we can fill in the gaps.  Let’s dive in to the deconstructive deep end with the most prevalent format, led group classes.

Led Group Classes

Led group practices, which are more or less uniform practices, typically involve groups of 2 to 50 practitioners following the lead of a teacher.

Teacher’s responsibilities: Setting aside thoughts about the pre-requisites we might hope a teacher has completed before standing in front of a group of students (some  of which are implied in the list that follows), here are some of the responsibilities she has in a led group class:

  • assess the readiness and interests of the assembled practitioners,
  • select an intention for the practice,
  • develop a strategy for how she will lead the group towards her intention for them,
  • choose the elements for the practice (among and including body practices, breathing practices, attention practices) that will support her strategy,
  • create the sequencing of those elements,
  • cue the individual techniques,
  • demonstrate techniques as needed,
  • provide hands on assistance (when appropriate) to facilitate getting into/out of the various elements of the practice,
  • shape the practice environment (provide encouragement, provides a broader philosophical, historical, and/or practical context for the practice,
  • make decisions re: the sensual environment for the practice (eg, music or not, lighting or not, incense or not, etc.),
  • manage the flow of information shared and absorbed,
  • keep track of the time,
  • remind people why they are there and where attention ought to be directed, and
  • remain open to surprises, broken expectations, new directions and unintended learning/teaching opportunities.

If she can sneak in a joke or something sage without disrupting the flow of attention or drawing too much focus on herself, that is sometimes appreciated, too.

Practitioner’s responsibilities: Most importantly, a practitioner needs to show up. By showing up a few minutes ahead of class and intentionally shifting gears from whatever activity she has just concluded, a led class practitioner is ready to ‘show up’ for her moment-to-moment responsibilities as a member of the group which asks her to:

  • self-assess her overall condition and readiness to practice,
  • alert her teacher of anything that would hamper her ability to pay attention or to carry out the practice the teacher may have in mind,
  • share with the teacher any hopes, fears or requests she has for the practice,
  • accept the presence of others in the room with her,
  • establish intentions to be mindful of the teacher’s directions and to honor her own needs and condition,
  • pay attention to the verbal and visual cues of the instructor;
  • quickly translate those cues into kinesthetic responses that mirror (to the best of her ability) those verbal/visual suggestions,
  • attend to thoughts, emotions, sensations and her internal storyteller which in analyzing, reacting, responding or developing narratives will keep her from being present,
  • negotiate the other sensual stimuli present in the room (moving bodies, smells, sounds, lighting) which has the potential to both distract and sharpen her moment-to-moment awareness, and
  • accept the possibility that unintended learning opportunities will emerge throughout the experience.

This gives us a good-enough jumping off point to start looking at the various ways Yoga is taught and to reflect on what is needed in each environment and what is needed to transition between different models.  I look forward to your feedback and insight.

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