We’ve been talking a lot about the instructor’s responsibility. The instructor is the person in charge of the class, puts people in certain positions, and most importantly – makes adjustments. So of course, the instructor is responsible. The person in charge necessarily is.
Now, let’s look at the student.
Students in yoga are (mostly) adults. They are people who buy a car, a house, take out a loan from the bank (well, maybe not in that order, but you get my point): They show responsibility. They know that they need to own up for their deeds. That decisions have consequences. They are handling large transactions, getting and quitting jobs, pay off debt, sign papers.
Not only that. They take responsibility for others. Most of them. They raise kids. They decide what’s best for them. How do they know? Well, they read, learn, trust their gut feeling. None of them is born with an innate knowledge of how to do this. They learn to distinguish what’s good and what’s harmful for their little ones because they have to. No one else will step in and help.
Kids, at least up to a certain age, think Mum (or Dad!) is a hero. Parents know everything. Therefore they must be right. In the ideal scenario children know: Mum and Dad know what to do, what’s good for me, and they would never do me any harm.
The perfect yoga teacher would behave in the same way. And of course in the perfect world, all teachers would be perfect. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. And unfortunately, the same people who take responsibility for their kids, buy houses and cars, the very same people get on the mat and switch off their ability to question and make judgements. Because “the teacher knows better”. Apparently.
But the teacher cannot know how Mum and Dad are feeling on the yoga mat. Cannot know if this already hurts, feels like a good stretch – or feels too easy a posture. Even teachers with the best intentions can hurt a student. How many students reply “yes” if asked if this is still feeling OK, not wanting to disappoint the teacher. Or worse, because they think it should feel OK. How many students when instructed to hold the posture “as long as feels comfortable” hold it much longer – because every one else does?
Students have to take responsibility. But this chunk of responsibility should not be taken away from the teacher. The instructor is responsible for, well, the instructions and the teachings. The student is responsible for his or her reaction to it. Only if the student gives honest feedback can the teacher tailor the practice to the student’s need.
Of course instructors are trained to see what students don’t say. They see what’s difficult and what’s not and can make suggestions on how to move forward. But they cannot read a student’s mind.
Now you’re saying: Well, fine, but is yoga not meant to develop this body awareness which is necessary to not just blindly follow the instructions? Yep. That’s right.
But as long as we’re living in a world with yoga teachers who cannot read your mind (or who are not perfect, can you imagine!) adult students need to perceive their bodies like they do their kids. They need to figure out what the body needs. Without any prior training. Like raising kids.
Just throw yourself into it. See how you feel. Trust this feeling. If something feels dodgy, it probably is. Tell the teacher – and make this teacher be the best teacher for you. You’ll rock as a team!