In a shared-inquiry pedagogic model for teaching yoga, the focus is on the student’s process as an emerging and evolving entity. In such an approach, the form of an asana becomes a soft suggestion or possibility that can never be defined by a singular representation or demonstration. While we may inherit useful practices from those who have come before us, these are considered potential tools that may or may not be valuable or relevant to an individual practitioner. What an asana looks like is considered far less important than how it feels and whether it makes sense in a practitioner’s body. In such an approach, the very concept of alignment as an immutable certainty becomes illogical for how could the unique structure of myriad individuals be condensed into one mold? If the form of an asana is merely suggestive and we view the asana as a mechanism for exploration and discovery, then the form has the potential to become a springboard for almost limitless expressions and permutations. For the practitioner this gives license to adapt, vary, change, and evolve practices over time.
This process-oriented approach to practicing yoga impels and demands a very different approach to teaching.(1) In this orientation to teaching we provide a context where students can best explore finding a harmonious relationship within their body and between the body and the world. Finding sequential flow of impulse, coherent connectedness, and efficiency and ease in movement in a particular moment of embodied evolution is as changeable as the ebb and flow of the breath. While systems and methods tend to work with snapshots or “net result” pictures, we work instead with a more difficult medium of embodiment as a cinematic experience. Trying to ascertain the student’s experience through the snapshot of a completed posture is like trying to understand the emotional content of a film through an analysis of a handful of still images.
But what about structure! What about the importance of alignment! What about biomechanics! What about anatomical and kinesiological principles! The importance of structural integration remains but how we get there differs. Through connecting to the animating force of breath, prana, and the movement of internal impulse we generate a remembrance of an innate ability to find coherence in form. We make the internal connection to the source of aliveness a priority and prerequisite to implementing the nuts and bolts of musculoskeletal alignment. For without the enlivening support of internal respiration and the global movement of breath, postures become like shells bereft of their inhabitants.
- This material has been sourced from the newly written manual for The Art of Teaching.
(1) Many yoga methods or brands are labelled “styles” implying that there is a particular way in which the practice is to be performed. I use the word “approach” to distinguish it from a style or method of yoga. An approach implies an orientation rather than a set reference point.