In my last post, I riffed on two related, but distinct, themes: the crux of Iyengar yoga and the value of verbal instructions. I perhaps shortchanged both, leading to unintended interpretations. Because I wrote that I never encounter too many asana cues, readers focused on quantity (and, implicitly, quality) of verbal instructions. I cringed as I found readers assuming that I favor a barrage of crazy instructions! (I, too, appreciate an oasis of silence, in class and in the rest of life.)
Reading your thoughtful comments helped me to crystallize my own points:
- In teaching asanas, verbal instructions (ballpark: three to five per pose) effectively complement demonstrations. If a teacher only demonstrates (or performs the entire class along with students), she is not really teaching. That said, the number of instructions must be appropriate to the students’ abilities.
- Iyengar yoga is not only about alignment, asana, and the physical practices. The asanas are a means to find ease in the body (and that means any body, any shape, any size, any ability). Ease in the body facilitate ease in the mind and, ultimately, the higher limbs of yoga.
- Keep an open mind (and avoid blanket conclusions) about other yoga lineages, especially if you aren’t familiar with them!
Learning from the Dog Whisperer
In their comments, Eco-Yogini, Yoga Gypsy, Namaste~Heather, and others wisely noted that verbal instructions must match students’ capacities to absorb information. In other words, there’s no set rule about “how much” to talk, to correct, to adjust, and so forth. A good teaches assesses her students and tailors her teaching to their needs.
One master of this “in the moment” adaptation is Cesar Millan, the famous, Los Angeles-based dog trainer/psychologist. I’d heard about him, but over the holidays I finally caught his show, Dog Whisperer, on TV.
That day, they were showing back-to-back episodes, so I sat, rapt, watching him deal with a traumatized beagle who’d been attacked; a boxer and a bulldog, both non-neutered alpha-male wannabes, forced to share a space; a lethargic bull terrier who was literally depressed; a rambunctious Great Dane puppy who ran rings around his owners. (I swear, this show is addictive.)
I have two words about Millan’s way with canines: genuine and genius. He can encounter any dog, any behavior, any crisis, and he reacts appropriately. He never works by textbook or agenda. Rather, he keenly observes each unique situation and spontaneously draws from his overall intelligence to act. In some cases, the dogs are aggressive or wild and obviously dangerous. But he knows when to dominate, when to soften his voice. He speaks their language, and they grow to trust him. He is always in utter control of the situation.
It might seem like a leap from dog trainer to yoga teacher, but it’s not. Both must focus outward, on another’s needs, rather than inward, on one’s own.