Monday, August 22, 2011
The Good Student
First and foremost, I am a student of yoga. I feel that my ability to teach first comes from my ability to learn and experience. Sometimes we give the teacher role too much credit. There is a great value in being an effective student. I teach private yoga lessons to a gentleman who is much more intelligent than I and who has had many more experiences in life than I, yet when we are in session together he honors me with the utmost respect as the teacher. He ponders and practices what I say and asks the most thoughtful questions. And I believe it is because of his studentship rather than any profound teaching that he progresses so abundantly in his practice.
What are the qualities of a good student? What does it mean to be teachable? Certainly the ability to listen is key. As a good student, one must listen not only to what the teacher is saying but more importantly, one must listen to that quiet inner-teacher. I practice listening to the words of the teacher and how the experience of the practice on my body resonates with that deeper part of my mind and soul. I feel that any teacher worth their salt will always point you back to the real teacher—yourself. Of course listening to your own limits in yoga practice is essential and an effective teacher will help to invite and encourage you to explore those boundaries safely and with awareness.
No matter the level of talent or the experience level of the teacher, I make it a point to always try to learn something from each teacher. You could expand this idea to try to learn something from every conversation you have with another person. As a student, it is easy to become trapped in cynicism incredulity and close off to something potentially opening and changing. There is no one way to practice yoga. Yoga is thousands of years old and what we practice today is most likely the amalgam of several different traditions. Yoga serves the people practicing it. So, to think that there is fundamentally only one way to do a posture is preposterous. The joke is this. How many yogis does it take to change a light bulb? 10: one to change the light bulb and 9 others to say they learned how to do it differently. Since there are several ways to approach what we call yoga, try doing something different in your practice, even if you learned it differently from someone else. Even if what you end up practicing is being humble and teachable. Of course you must honor your physical limits over the instruction of the teacher. Hopefully a skillful teacher will give you permission to navigate that skillfully.
This week in and out of practice, I propose we all practice being good students. I invite you to consider what makes a good student and employ that in your dealings with others as well as yoga practice. See you in practice.