Most of us want to be good students, no matter what it is that we are learning. So we bring that mindset into the yoga studio, which in some ways doesn’t serve us that well. It actually can get in our way. So I will share a few tips on how you can get the most out of your teacher’s cues, be it verbal or hands-on adjustments and suggestions.
Your teacher’s job is to be your mirror. To show you what they see and sense watching you practice. And often she shows you a different way of going about it. Like dropping your shoulders instead of carrying them by your ears, softening your jaw instead of biting your teeth, spreading your toes instead of gripping them to the floor, or softening your intention instead of muscling yourself into a posture. She is offering up choices in how to go about your practice and daily life.
As teachers we also will offer you questions to ponder, like how you are doing something, what happens if you do it differently then you are used to? Which way serves you the best? We also take you into uncomfortable situations, looking to help you be more comfortable with challenges in life, to figure out how to breathe and relax inside even though you are uncomfortable one way or the other. To not run away as soon as you are challenged. Be it physically, mentally or emotionally. We also encourage you to find out how to accept what is and to work from there, not from an illusion or wish of how things “should” be.
So how do we as students receive the feedback so that we get the most out of it? First and foremost, slow down your reaction. I speak about this regularly with my beginners. And this is where being a “good” student can get in the way. Whatever the cue is from your teacher, try it on slowly. And a little bit. And feel if it makes a difference. And then perhaps add a little more. Keep feeling. As a teacher I am not looking for you to make a quick adjustment and then move on. On the contrary, I hope for you to experience it, and possibly feel that something changes. Be curious to why the teacher is suggesting it. What difference does it make? Why is she/he suggesting this? You might not find the answer to it at that time, but you will keep asking these questions as you explore. By slowing it down you will actually have the possibility to feel the answer to those questions, but if you quickly lift, drop or engage something, most likely you have no idea if it made a difference or not. Or you overdo it. And the desired affect might not be available. Do remember that it sometimes takes a long time until we can sense the difference. If you have been practicing for a while you are probably aware of this already, but it’s always important to remember. It happens on a regular basis that someone will tell me that whatever it is that I have been suggesting, sometimes for a long time, suddenly it makes sense to them. Simply from applying the concept over and over. And when I say that it “makes sense”, I don’t mean on a thinking level, but as in sensing the difference in their body.
Secondly, always think of your practice as exploration. It’s not about executing postures and breathing exercises, it’s about getting as an immediate experience of life as possible. To feel ourselves as beings of energy and becoming who we actually are. Exploration means we question and we play. We look at how, how much and why. And we remember that everything changes continuously. Including our bodies and our minds. Your teacher is not trying to help you “master” the pose. There is no such thing. The poses are tools to teach us about ourselves. To explore concepts like spaciousness, stability and fluidity in the physical body, and relaxation, non-attachment and non-judgment internally. They are never done, they are never mastered.
When it comes to hands-on cues from your teacher there are a couple of helpful things I want to mention as well. Watch it so you don’t try to anticipate what they are about to show you. Remember, they are intending to illuminate something for you through gentle, loving touch. So feel and listen to their hands. Some of us immediately start to move underneath the teacher’s hands before they get to even start moving you towards something different to explore. See if you can let their hands guide you. Which means that you need to follow their cue. Be as fluid as you can and simply allow them to move your body, in what hopefully is a gentle but clear manner.
Sometimes we don’t’ realize that we are rigid in our pose, and when the teacher tries to show a different way, we become even more rigid, working against their suggestion. I still remember a while ago when one of my regular students wouldn’t let me move her arm. Not due to pain or discomfort, simply because she had no idea that she was completely rigid. We laughed together when I pointed it out, I like to do this with humor, and she realized she was working hard to not let the arm move.
These suggestions are based on you working with a knowledgeable teacher. If you ever feel unsafe or pushed too far by a teacher, do let them know. It’s important that you do. Any teacher needs that feedback, and will hopefully look at what they need to do differently to serve you better.
Sometimes hands-on adjustments need to be quite firm , more so in the beginning of our practice, then later on. There are places within where we might never go if we are not encouraged firmly to do so. We will never touch on parts of ourselves otherwise. With time I have found that my hands-on adjustments get lighter and lighter, as well as fewer and fewer. As you learn to soften, relax and be curious, a gentle suggestion is often enough. But know that it all depends on the situation.
Be curious, feel and investigate. It’s an incredible journey if you want it to be.