I was talking with an experienced teacher recently about to how to keep yoga class (vinyasa specifically) safe. His pointers were really interesting. I was expecting loads of alignment stuff and the need to draw boundaries between being a yoga teacher and being a doctor/physio. But this wasn’t it. Sure, he talked some about the need to check in with injuries and illnesses and the responsibility of the teacher in these respects, and about how to adapt the practice to individuals. But more than this he talked about the need to empower students to help themselves. He talked about relationships. About taking time to talk to your students, getting to know them and their concerns, about the atmosphere in the room and how you create the learning environment through your welcoming engagement. See your students. See their faces and their expressions, not just their bodies.
I’m glad to say all this was more a refresher for me than anything startlingly new; this is just what we were taught in YTT. But it was a timely reminder nonetheless. There’s a few injuries in my class right now and I need to make up for my ignorance and inexperience by helping them help themselves. Someone’s rehabbing hip surgery, there’s a new ankle and a knee injury, someone returning back from a bout of pneumonia.
Happily I’d been able to check with the knee and ankle during the week between classes which seemed welcome, offering a couple of pointers about alignment and about weight distribution. But beyond this I got some sense of them as people: one eager to please the teacher and ready to follow the letter of my cuing even through the pain, the other a self-confessed striver always wanting to take the ‘strongest’ option in any posture. A teaching opportunity to signal to them something about the quality of one’s practice and about self-awareness… And food for thought for me about the words I choose in class, the behaviours I model, what messages I might offer about self-care without turning the practice into a prolonged safety announcement!
A couple of months in and it seems my students are getting to know me more (despite being work colleagues most of them were strangers to me) and they are therefore more open in chatting around class. And through casual chatting all sorts of interesting things emerge. I begin to wonder how to meet what I see, what I can offer that’s of genuine use in their lives, beyond the ability to balance on one leg or breathe through alternate nostrils.
It feels a bit serious. It feels a big responsibility. But it feels a good one.