This blog is offered upon invitation from Kate of You & The Yoga Mat as participation in her month-long blog tour on Sequencing. Thanks Kate! You can sign up for the whole series here. There are many other brilliant teachers offering their expertise on this virtual tour. Be sure to check out Kaya's piece today as well as Dagmar's tomorrow.
For me teaching is a conversation. A conversation between the student’s awareness, the student’s body, the asanas and my witnessing. This dialogue makes every class, every private, every student unique. Why do I use one adjustment on one student and a gentle verbal cue on another? Its subtle. Honestly, its not a pure formula of sequential steps I learned from teacher training. Rather its a combination of the theory I know, the body I am seeing, the person inside that body I am seeing and my own sense of intuitive presence. In all honesty, the last piece is the foundation for the work I do. Let me say it to you plain. Your awareness—your sense of your internal world— is actually the gateway to understanding another. So that can be our topic for another day.
But what seems pertinent as a skill set to share with you at this moment is one of the distinctions I balance with every student, in every class, in every private. The distinction between Affect and Effect. Balancing Effect and Affect allows you as the teacher to use all the good science you know to actually help the student in the vein of what the yoga can offer them. Allowing for their affect, or their inner life and emotions to be present, calls on you as the teacher to stand in witness to what is actually unfolding in the moment for the student.
Only teach the student and we risk missing the education of the actual movement form. Only use my perception and risk too much self error and subjective viewing. So to find the interest and value in the complex dialogue I use a very clear distinction between what I know the yoga can do for someone, the Effects of the yoga, and a spacious being with the student’s experience as it arises on the path, known as their Affect.
Depending on your lineage, your style, and your interest in asana you know a certain amount of prescriptive protocols to establish a desired result from the yoga or to resolve a certain issue. Think about depression for a moment. Depending on where you come from in your teaching you know that a certain set of poses or poses done in a certain manner will yield the effect of brighter mood and less depression.
I am not here to say this is true or untrue. I do not really believe in any one set of protocols and I see tremendous value in many of them. If you say “Oh, backbends are good for depression because they open the ribcage, encourage deep breathing, lift the chest and take the energy of the body up”. I would say “Yes. I agree.” But I would also not be expecting that immediate response from a student. You see the road to the desired result can be long and arduous. So if the student is working on lifting their mood. I might have a whole slew of appropriate poses aimed toward a desired effect on their body, mind and nervous system. But I am also keenly aware that anything could happen along the way.
In order to reach that desired effect, they might experience tremendous grief. They might experience a kind of rage. They may at times look even more despondent. The nascent teacher assumes that the effects of the asanas will invariably coincide with a matching affect. And when there is not that matching an assumption that the yoga is not working often arises. The point I am trying to make here is that there are plenty of times where what is happening in the moment and where you are headed may look and feel different.
So yes, have your protocols and know the effects of the poses in such away that you can use them in your private work with clients towards specific issues. Know the science of the yoga and the asanas and build your sequences. Yes. Awesome. Keep doing all the good work. But also know that where you are headed is not the same as the experience of where you are going. Students need (hell, we all need) free reign to experience whatever we experience in yoga.
My suggestion as you begin working with this distinction in your teaching and facilitating is to continue the good work based on your science and knowledge of the asanas and human beings in asanas. And then observe. Keenly observe what happens for your students in each pose. Observe their fascial gestures. Observe their breath. Observe their energy. Listen to what they are telling you. In fact, a deep emotional expression or even the experience of numbness along the way toward depression or anxiety relief or healing a disordered eating pattern is not only shall we say fare game. It is a sign of health. You can remind your students that all of them is welcome on the mat. And that experiencing their process towards the aim of the yoga is part and parcel to what you are up to any way.
Now one side note here that is not such a side note. Your ability to be with what arises for students then becomes critically important. But that we leave for another day.