The Effectiveness of Teaching Self-Evident Principles

by on February 22, 2012 · 1 comment

in Thoughts on Teaching

So, one of my pet peeves in life is indoctrination. I see it as a double-edged sword. From one perspective, it can be excellent for preserving culture, but on the other hand, it doesn’t always foster original thinking or allowing one to gracefully come to self discovery. One of the biggest hurdles in my life was dissolution of indoctrinated life limiting principles through reductio ad absurdum.

As teachers, I think it is important to ensure the dynamic of teaching does not lie within the context of parroting that which was simply conveyed as de facto. One principle in teaching a method is to never teach something that you do not already practice. I find that most teachers adhere to this fairly strictly when physical postures are involved, but when it comes to philosophy, it becomes a bit trickier to use the same guideline. We all come to the mat for different reasons and we all transform on the mat into something more than whence we began.

If your students come to your class because they want to have a cute butt in yoga pants, then there’s really nothing wrong with that. If a student confesses to you their friend dropped two dress sizes by doing yoga 4 days a week and that she (or he) wants to do the same, it’s ok to refrain from detracting from their perspective. Sure, the side effects of yoga can lead to leaner frame, longer muscle structure, beautiful posture and even weight loss. But is that really the whole point?  For some it might be, and it’s ok. And its also fine for you to hint that there’s more below the surface. But if you’re dealing with a student that only has a superficial view of yoga, you’re probably not going to speak to their true nature when you try to push some Patanjali references their way. However, if you let him embark on his own path of self-discovery, then he may find himself in bliss by breathing consciously. Or she may discover something that she can’t identify or put in words and will at that point rely on your to help her make sense of what’s happening. And you can simply smile and say “that’s prana” or “that’s realized duality”, or whatever the case maybe.

I find so many classes focus on physiological alignment, strength, balance and flexibility, which all lead to greater physical prowess overtime. So, these teachings no doubt verify the truth behind the principles. But I rarely find life lessons taught with the same way. There’s no doubt that many teachers incorporate philosophy into their classes, but not often do I hear a theme or a message from the heart. Somtimes the lesson is conveyed and the entire point is missed. So I often wonder why life-lessons or scripture is incorporated into a practice. Is it for the sake of preventing signetur of yoga as just a workout? I’ve heard students belittled for referring to yoga as an exercise on more than one occasion, but fewer times have I witnessed proper conveyance of proof abiding methods to present yoga as anything more.  Maybe that’s all that asanas are to some students, but we must remember that the path has to be walked to be experienced. I enjoy asanas but my heart belongs to Jnana yoga. So, I get a little excited when I encounter people that are interested more in the knowledge of yoga, and I encourage them in the direction of self-reflection. And likewise, when I encounter someone who wants to tone or shape this or that part of their body, my ego wants to direct them towards my experience and not put so much emphasis on the body.

I’ve learned the most effective way to share your experience with students is to convey that which you know through experience, if practiced, will lead the student to realize the results. For new students, until you have learned their level of dedication, perhaps focus on results that are immediate. Have them record the number of breaths for a minute, then have them record again with two part breathing. Or have students measure their pulse when they drop in for class, then lead them through yoga nidra and have them measure again. For well-seasoned  students, challenge them to working with hanuman prep every morning  as a home practice to show them they can achieve Hanumanasana with an earnest practice.

These of course are just examples to clarify the point I’m trying to make.  Try to remember that this foundation provides an effective method of teaching and a rewarding method for learning.   Are you leading your students down a path or are you walking the path with them? Though they are both fine choices, One requires greater responsibility. The greater responsibility lies within leading, and that is to teach principles that are self-evident.

  • Dalia Stoffer

    The only way to learn is to practice, and the only way to Master is to teach. I can not exactly recall which teacher I had that quoted this to me in class, but it continues to ring true for me. Many of my teachers have presented yoga to me as more than just a sequence of asanas and pranayamas. However, most have waited until they have seen me practice consistantly. I honestly believe that the guiding principles of yoga become apparent as a student continues to practice.  Just getting them on the mat is the first lesson that needs to be learned. Surrounding them selves with like minded people, to me, is just like teaching a pre-schooler to socialize. Only then can they even begin to comprehend what yoga is going to do for their life. Once they have commited to a practice, then feeding them bits of knowledge/philosophy is going to help them in their own self discovery. I believe that self discovery is a safe learning environment for almost all students, and allows them the option to realize evident truths for themselves. Just like cats, they need to think it was their idea 🙂
     
    I love the direction you are heading in Scott! I am so happy to be experiencing this world with you!

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