I teach a couple of Iyengar yoga classes at a donation-based Yoga for the People studio. Here, students attend on a drop-in basis, and most are unfamiliar with Iyengar yoga. Recently, a woman dropped in for the first time. With a decade-long background in vinyasa yoga, she was neither newbie nor expert, and I instructed and adjusted her accordingly.
Later, she thanked me and also admitted that my class was challenging for her ego. “[T]o deal with blocks and criticism!” she good-naturedly commented. (I’d instructed her to use a block in Trikonasana and adjusted her pelvis in the pose.) She said that “a lot of classes are all about praise and finding your own way into the pose, which feels good, but I also want to learn the proper way.”
Beginners, especially, might be injuring themselves doing sloppy asanas. I cannot ignore students sitting slumped in Baddhakonasana (knees shooting straight up!) or struggling to reach the floor in standing poses. I intervene. I explain. I adjust. Eventually, some students can find their own way, but beginners are too busy trying to copy the teacher.
Advanced students, on the other hand, tend to welcome criticism. By then, one knows the major asanas and can perform them decently. But only the astute eye of a good teacher can help with “refining” a pose.
Ultimately I’m teaching the way I want to be taught. I want a teacher with high standards who understands my strengths and weaknesses and can provide constructive criticism. I want a teacher to give it to me straight. This applies to all types of learning. If I take a writing class, I’d rather have the teacher rip my work apart than to give me false hope. A teacher’s role is to teach, which requires honesty and rigor. One can correct and criticize with humor and compassion.
Teaching yoga involves both criticism and praise. The key word is “both.”