A Conundrum

July 8, 2014 § 14 Comments

What does it say about the quality of instruction I receive daily when I go off on vacation and practice with someone entirely new, and get so much more out of just three days with this teacher than I have from the past three years of practicing in my current room?

That’s quite a conundrum isn’t it? Surely it’s a warning sign that something is not quite right with the current state of affairs. It’s actually not the first time I’m seeing this discrepancy in teaching. We have a regular roster of visiting teachers who spend anything from a week to two months with us, and each time, this discrepancy in quality shows up. This time, it’s big enough to occupy my thoughts and for me to actually write about it.

In truth, I have struggled with the quality of teaching at the local studio for the better part of the last three years. There has been a lot of self-doubt. A lot of querying about how, maybe, it’s me that’s not getting it. Maybe I’m being too demanding, too egotistical in expecting a better instructional experience. There has been a lot of benefit of the doubt given to the teacher in authority, explaining away the things that puzzle me. There’s also, perhaps, some misguided acceptance of how, as a student, I should learn to be more accepting, generous, understanding of the teacher’s personality and how that shapes their teaching style.

There is also the realization that ‘Authorization’ from Mysore is certainly not an arbiter of teaching quality. Not. At. All. (So for those of you with teaching inclinations eyeing that ‘stamp of approval’ from Sharath, you might be of better service to humanity by focusing your energies on delving deep into your practice and developing your communication skills than running after a certificate. Just sayin’.)

So, this conundrum. What to do?

It is hard to explain – to myself even – what bad yoga teaching looks like without every line taking on the veil of a personal attack. Because yoga teaching is personal, any feedback can go very wrong very quickly. This is not something I have had to encounter with the majority of teachers I’ve practiced with since 2009. And so you don’t really think about it – you just sort of assume that if someone is a full-time yoga teacher, with a growing number of practitioners, that he/she knows what they’re doing and that you’ve got to “trust” the method. Trust the authority. Unfortunately, the longer I do this, the less willing I am to surrender my authority to just anyone, least of all to someone whose teaching style resonates less and less with my experience of the practice and my desire to learn.

But that still doesn’t answer the big question: Now that I see this conundrum, what am I going to do about it? I suppose blogging is the first step.

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§ 14 Responses to A Conundrum

  • globie says:

    Practising on vacation, when the usual other worldly pressures are absent makes a difference to the practice. Also on vacation were there less students so the teacher had more time to teach those present, rather than a very busy Mysore room where they run between adjustments?

    I’ve just come back from 4 days practising in Lisbon with a wonderful teacher I met in Mysore, like you I got a lot from the vacation, she saw different things to help me with and new ways for me to do them. I’m lucky in that I have a wonderful teacher back home, but it’s also true that the Shala is much busier and my regular teacher doesn’t always have the space to spend the kind of time I’ve enjoyed being taught the last week.

    Totally agree about the “Certificate”, a great practice does not always make a good teacher, both my regular and last weeks teacher do have a certificate and are definitely excellent.

    • D says:

      Good points Kevin. True, a vacation mindset does influence the practice experience – funny thing is we weren’t looking for a yoga ‘intensive’ but inadvertently found ourselves in one! The element of surprise that came with that probably contributes to the weightier sense of discrepancy (and the corresponding urgency to ‘do something’) this time around.

      Room size is certainly a major factor impinging on a teacher’s ability to get to each student. But I offer that good teaching does not necessarily come from spending a lot of time with each student everyday – it is something more intangible. For me, it’s in knowing that the teacher sees my practice – what I struggle with, what I’m good at, where I’m sloppy/cheating – and chimes in accordingly, or not, depending on the day.

  • We get used to the style of any teacher, such that we no longer recognize their competencies, also because sometimes they have given us what they can. It is not a question of poor teaching, just the way we humans get used to one style. I find it is true with any body worker, or other practitioner too. Each of our teachers has his or her own set of blinders, so a new teacher gives us a new perspective. Our goal is to discard as many sets of blinders as we can.

    • D says:

      Yes, “poor” isn’t the best choice of word to use – what I’m really referring to is a learning experience that I find inadequate. Is it possible to outgrow our teachers? Maybe that’s what’s going on here.

      I like the imagery of blinders you talk about – at the moment I am too close to this topic to clearly see where my blinders are and how they’re affecting my perspective.

  • suzanne says:

    it is easier for a new teacher to “teach you something”-they are looking at you and your practice without the history..without the knowledge of how you learn..at what pace..what sorts of things..etc. when you say sloppiness and cheating- is it asana instruction that you are wishing for more detail on-in terms of seeing your practice, or something else. maybe also having someone new to teach you is giving you sense of progress that you don’t feel with your daily teacher?

    not to say that your gut feeling is not valid (i have had those thoughts too at times). but maybe your own teacher thinks it isn’t the time to work on changing those habits..or maybe just are making more progress than you think. it is so hard to see your own daily progress..because we sit and notice the sloppiness, errors, etc. rather than the bigger picture. for change to really solidify, it has to be so small, that you don’t even notice it most of the time.

    • D says:

      Right…yes, a new teacher comes with a fresh pair of eyes, so in that sense they see more things to ‘fix’. For better or for worse. I am talking about asana-related instruction in this post, because that’s where it’s most lacking.

      Without going into too much detail about my current experience, the departure of my first teacher in 2011 left a big gap that no one else has filled, despite practicing in a local community with different teachers. And by ‘filled’ I mean someone who’s come in and owned it – owned the role of the Teacher and owned the running of the room, not to be a clone of my first teacher. After 3 years at the current place, I realize that I still feel more or less as lost in my practice as when I first started, and that instead of going there to do some actual learning I’m really going there to practice in community. Which is no small thing for sure, but I want to learn as well and there’s not much learning happening. And it gets to a point when you wonder where your monthly membership is going to and whether it’s a worthwhile ongoing expense.

      Tangentially this brings up questions about the relevance/necessity of having just one Ashtanga teacher to guide you and what this quest of mine says about me. I have definitely learnt to take responsibility for my practice and to rely less on having a teacher help me through difficult poses. But I still feel lost. It is a difficult sentiment to fully articulate. Maybe instead of the word teacher what I’m really looking for is a ‘guide’.

      • suzanne says:

        have you or can you discuss the your “lost” feeling with your teacher? can you ask questions to get what you want…or to move closer in that direction? teachers are not mind readers.

        i think there is always learning happening, perhaps even more when the teacher leaves you alone than when they come help, but it is a different kind of learning, very unconscious in a way.

        also, you wrote before just started doing full practice into 2nd on a daily basis–maybe that is also part of the issue?

      • D says:

        Suzanne: No I have not discussed this, and based on past experiences trying to discuss other things, bringing this up in conversation is not going to go anywhere. You’re right that learning is always happening, but what I’m talking about is more than just being left alone on one day or two, or not being pushed. It’s about feeling that I am alone, that no one is there to really see my practice and call me out on my bullshit. This feeling has been here for the better part of the last 3 years, way before I started doing 2nd.

  • yogibattle says:

    Sounds like you have matured in your practice to the point where you can practice at home, with an occasional refresher course at your local studio (or just to keep community). Another option would be to recruit a friend to practice with and fill in blanks which is a wonderful way to learn.

    Take good notes of the teacher you are studying with on your travels and make notes on what it is that makes the teaching so good. As some responders said above, we tend to have a halo effect when we travel, so discriminate what part of the practice with the teacher is novelty, and which part is different and resonating.

    Best wishes! YB

  • ingulule says:

    in this practice the student finds the teacher (one, singular). if you have not found your teacher at your local studio then there is no point for you in going there, or for them to teach you. the graceful thing to do then is to be quiet and move on. this practice is not a fee for service deal where one is entitled to a desired outcome, nor is your perception of the outcome a measure for the quality of the teaching or the teacher. there is no syllabus. progress in this practice, at any rate, is hardly defined by number of asanas mastered or series accomplished.

    • D says:

      I appreciate your suggestion. In truth, yes, it is as simple as you say, but what has kept me going back to this studio is the community of practitioners. So it’s not as easy as you make it out to be.

  • D says:

    Thank you all for your constructive comments on this post – it wasn’t an easy one to write, and I am grateful for the support and thoughts on an issue that is very close to my heart.

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