I was teaching a complete beginner recently. What an experience! A challenge, but mostly just a delight. And an honour.
Teaching challenge: How to describe the shapes, when the names of postures are meaningless? How much to demonstrate as a short-hand description but how to avoid setting an impossible standard (not that my shapes are amazing, but to a beginner I recognise they’re not attainable…)? Plus she has particular physical limitations so I wanted to let her body lead the way, not my ideas about what might be.
As a balancing pose I taught Vṛkśāsana (Tree Pose), taking care to describe three position for the raised foot – ankle, calf, or thigh. I always try to do this in teaching, but I get lazy when students always hoik their foot up to the thigh immediately no matter what I say. I shouldn’t be lazy, of course! I should each and every time give the message that lower is always OK, that one should never be on auto-pilot in yoga but question afresh what is needed in each pose.
And this beginner contently stood with foot to ankle, toes touching the mat still. She did ballet as a girl, so I’m sure this position felt familiar and comforting to her. Even so she was wobbling, there was still physical work going on. And she was content there. She had no context to know that it’s very rare in the classes I attend for anyone to do this. I do sometimes myself if I’m sore, having a really off day, or challenging my mind to stay here with curiosity and humility. A mind game. But mostly my tree wants to grow joyfully ever upward and outward, reaching for the light.
But my beginner yogi was just as she was. It was beautiful to witness.
And quite hard to resist the temptation to encourage her to challenge herself more. Why the need for greater challenge always? In allowing her to stay here am I honouring where she is or am I failing to inspire?
I love the questions that teaching makes me ask myself! It helps me remain curious and open to possibilities. And to be content and confident with the lack of answers.