Who wants a strict teacher?

Someone has asked my teacher to be more strict. He mentioned it in class last night. I don’t know what he made of this request (inscrutable yoga teacher!) but it rang alarm bells to me. More strict? Seriously? For me he’s strict enough already. But subtly so and only if I choose to meet him there (some gently yogic version of Stockholm Syndrome?). His strictness requires my active participation, to practice with honesty and alertness, staying open to the possibilities, seeking my own truth in what he offers. And that works for me.

He quietly compels me to stay awake through the whole practice time (and beyond), no dozing onto auto-pilot, even when physically at rest; he asks difficult questions that have no answers but require that I fall into the heart of the matter to enquire for myself, flowing with the uncertainties and paradoxes; he demands that I always do my best but wisely so, judging for myself when to move and in what direction (advance, stay steady, withdraw); he allows me, requires almost, to let go — to trust, to fly, to settle, to laugh or cry… often both. He tells me with seriousness that I am a yogi, burdening me and uplifting me with all the responsibility and joy that this identification carries.

If this isn’t a strict teacher, what is?

And this class was a tough one. It felt (to my grand ego!) to have been designed as a perfectly personalised torture. The strictness here felt very real to me at least! He required me to explore the front of the shoulder. Is that so hard? Oh yes. 100 times yes.

open-your-heart-textHow to explore the subtleties of front vs back body (yin and yang planes), allowing an opening to arise and melt the tensions, resisting the temptation simply to squeeze the shoulder blades together and force the issue. How to sense minutely the craving I have for this open-hearted way of being that lies beneath the brute, everyday fears of vulnerability and existence. How strict does a teacher need to be to persuade me to dive into that contradictory state and dwell there, watching emotions rise and fall, listening to my heart whispering in a language I barely comprehend, softening into my strength? Opening my heart is an act of pure faith. I need some help with that.

So too, on a different level, in the physical exploration of the shoulder joint. The trapped nerve I have at the moment makes some of these movements exceedingly, but fleetingly, painful. I’m working with my physio on this so I know I’m not doing damage. The discipline here is in acknowledging the pain but remaining impassive. “Soften your face” my teacher said to me as he encouraged me to find the subtle interplay of outward/inward rotations through the whole length of my arm and hand (the bandha, he called it). Oh yeah, just let me find my smiling tranquil Buddha face while my nerves scream and fire tension into my muscles.

Sure this doesn’t seem particularly strict — all he was actually doing was asking me to let go of some frowny, jaw-clenching tension, his physical intervention was just a gentle suggestion to my upper arm. In contrast, my brushes with a couple of different teachers recently hint at what properly strict adjustments feel like. They’ve practically forced me through a couple of mental blockages I’ve had about what my body (shoulders included!) can do. Helpful in their way, but requiring only my compliance in the rearrangement of my limbs.

guru and students.pngMy teacher’s version of strict on the other hand requires commitment and courage. My heart was singing throughout this, exalting in my trust and willingness to give up the fears and the physical limitations and instead to sink beneath; to go in, in, in, even as my body opened outward. But I wouldn’t venture there on my own. I need the discipline he offers. His soft strictness is as subtle a blend of contradictions as the actions and attitudes he was teaching. There’s more to be learned from contemplating that, than from being beaten through a sequence or man-handled into a pose. But it’s a blink-and-you-miss-it strictness. You have to want it to find it. A bit like Yoga, I guess.

5 thoughts on “Who wants a strict teacher?

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  1. Your teacher sounds exceptional. (But you know the saying – a teacher is only as good as his/her students? He has an exceptional student in you!) Perhaps the student who wants a “stricter” presentation would do well with the structure of an Iyengar style class. Different strokes…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, you know that *I* think he is… 🙂
      Yep, my small experiences of Iyengar teachers would characterise them as strict. Even the local one I’m trying to practise with a little. She does less hands on than the London shoulder and hip wrangling I experienced, but she’s very sharp in telling me if I’m doing something she doesn’t like — or in flat-out telling me not to even try something! Very different to my reg teacher.
      It’s fascinating wondering how and why they teach how they do and observing my reactions to it. Time was when I would have craved strict, but I feel now that’s just feeding a striving ego or allows the student to abdicate responsibility. Softer is much harder… if you see what I mean?!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally hear what you’re saying. There is a mentality/stage of practice that likes/needs to be told what to do. The bootcamp mentality! Not that Iyengar style classes are that, at all. And I imagine that as one progresses in the Iyengar style of practice, one takes on more and more “svadhyaya” and one’s personal practice deepens. Actually, I think this is a natural progression of any serious style of practice.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny request to be more strict. We Iyengar teachers get our share of bad press about being too strict. If anything, I try to push the limits of “unstrictness” when I teach, meaning I teach just enough to keep the student safe, and let them explore the rest. All I have to say to your friend is “be careful what you wish for…”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well I think people find it comforting to be told what to. Or at least they think they do…. Actually doing what you’re told is much harder in reality, I find!!
      And yeah, I wish this person hadn’t made such a request in a class I attend! 😦

      Liked by 1 person

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