The classic Iyengar method of teaching asana is what I’ll call the “demo” method: teacher demonstrates and then students do. This contrasts with the common “follow the leader” method, in which teachers do practically the whole sequence along with students.
So, many students who attend my classes aren’t used to the “demo” method. Often, they’re hesitant to venture too far from their mats, unlike longtime Iyengar students who want ringside seats for demos. Sometimes, I demonstrate a forward bend with my head facing downward only to find students already doing the pose when I rise. Waitaminute, folks! I want to watch students enter the pose. If I’m doing the pose, I’m not watching them. And isn’t my job? To watch my students?
If they’re used to constant activity, however, some tend to be impatient. While I’m demonstrating, they can’t help but to ready their stance or to arrange their props. The instant they recognize the pose I’m teaching, their minds jump to expectations. I know this pose. I don’t need to watch. Let me do it.
This amuses me. Where are their minds during class?
I, for one, never tire of watching my own teachers demonstrate. I love to watch the details, from the spreading of the toes to the symmetry of a backbend. Once, my current main teacher told me that watching her own teachers was invaluable to her practice. It was only through visual observation that she learned to do the most-challenging asanas.
Close observation of teachers’ demos or words doesn’t mean agreeing with them. Heck, I’ve attended classes where I learned how not to do a pose! All classes are not created equal. Regardless, you’re physically there in class; you might as well be mentally there, too.
The yoga mind. If the whole point of yoga, including asana, is really to develop the mind, who has a better practice: The adept student who relies on ease and habit? Or the inept novice who pays close attention?
Image: Cliff & Olivia