I wanted to share with all of you this recent short article I wrote for Yoga Samachar, IYNAUS’s magazine. I was given the assignment of writing an essay with the theme of using the “beginner’s mind” to inform and improve my teaching. I hope you enjoy this look into teaching.
Teaching as a Reflection of Practice
Mr. Iyengar says if a pupil comes to you with a problem, imagine that problem is within you. Then you are to think and make a self-inquiry as to how you would proceed for yourself. The process of the self-inquiry will give you the subjective experience to help the students who have been sent to you.
Mr. Iyengar’s idea is the basis of an exercise we practiced at several of Dean and Rebecca Lerner’s teacher-training sessions. Half the class would perform a pose, say Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle), and try to imitate problems that they had seen their own students have in the pose. The other half of the class would pick the “student” who seemed to best embody common issues in the pose. Then, as a group exercise, we would try to improve the student’s pose with words, learning the art of observation and correction.
This exercise has had a lasting effect on my teaching. Before, I hadn’t considered imitating my students. I have incorporated these ideas into my teaching preparation and practice. I practice the pose as I see it performed in my classes, or I imagine that I have a physical limitation and try out different props and modifications on myself. By direct experience in my own body and by trying out possible corrections and solutions, I have more empathy for students’ struggles that may not be the same as my own.
Geeta Iyengar has been known to say “start like a beginner.” This phrase, this way of thinking, can also enlighten and inform our teaching practice.
Sometimes I have been forced to start like a beginner. For example, after being ill for a week, my return to practice has found me stiff in body and dull in mind. Even standing in Tadasana (Mountain pose) can feel unfamiliar and challenging. I noted how I felt at these times and tried to relate this feeling of body and mind to how a new student might feel in trying yoga for the first time.
Other times, starting like a beginner can be the purposeful focus of my personal practice. I ask myself to identify the main ideas that a student needs to know to attempt a pose for the first time. Then I practice those ideas to see how they feel in my body and whether they get me into the shape of the pose. Some ideas are modified and tried again. Other ideas are discarded as being overly complex. Practicing these simple ideas brings clarity and understanding to my practicing and my teaching.
Our task as teachers is to help those who come to us. We can do that only if we meet our students where they are, starting like beginners.