Saturday, January 14, 2006

Yoga na do what??

I was reading Susan's blog, about how her friend would like her to teach her some made me think about the tradition of passing knowledge down from one "generation" to the other. I believe that Susan should teach her friend and do so without guilt or fear of being taken to task by the "Yoga Police". My hope for Susan is that she teaches her friend and does so proudly, without the need to say, "I admit I know nothing about this, but...." Confidence is VERY important in teaching, and Susan SHOULD feel confident. From her blog, from my discussions with her via both of our blogs and via email, I know that she will be a wonderful teacher. And if, by chance, I am dead wrong, then I can say this with authority: at least Susan knows more about yoga than her friend.

And THAT is the key to imparting knowledge: having knowledge to impart. My eight-year old son teaches my six year old son spelling, reading and math skills. My six-year old son teaches my eight-year old son social skills. We can all be "teachers". And this is the way that lineages of learning are created and continued: One person learns something and then that person imparts the knowledge to someone else. And so on.

In my son's First Grade class, the teacher wants parents in the classroom, helping out where help is needed. In my case, she asked me to help out a boy who is at the bottom of the class in terms of reading and writing skills. She gave me a short lesson in "scaffolding"-style teaching (where one asks some questions and leads the student to make some conclusions and then builds on the conclusions), and then off I went. I am in no way now ready to be a First Grade Teacher. But certainly having me as a teacher for a few minutes a week is better than having NO TEACHER for those few minutes. And even if I am a really SUCKY teacher, it is still better than him being ignored and learning nothing, just sitting around feeling alienated from those other kids who are learning faster and accelerating past him.

Certifications, authorizations - they have their place, no doubt. As I said, learning to help a first grade student in writer's workshop is not going to make me an an appropriate first grade teacher. Obtaining a teacher's certificate from a teacher's college would help ensure that I had the proper traning and experience needed to be an appropriate first grade teacher.

As for yoga, a 200 hour teacher training program can be quite effective in imparting knowledge AND confidence in teaching, even if it only unlocks the existing knowledge and instinct within, bolstering it with confidence and validation. On the other hand, some certification programs are not worth the paper on which they are written.

But in any event, with OR without a yoga certification, one can still "teach" yoga. Someone like Susan, who has studied the Sutras, who is dedicated to practicing yoga not just on the mat but in life, and who has the confidence to say "yeah" when a potential student asks her to be her teacher, can certainly teach yoga. And she could teach it well.

But will she be teaching "Ashtanga" in the traditional method? If she teaches it exactly the way that it is taught in Mysore, then yes....but for one very crucial exception that might annihilate that "yes", turning it into an emphatic "no": she hasn't been authorized by SKPJ. And that automatically takes her teaching out of the realm of the way it is taught in Mysore (or to be more specific, the way the lineage is passed down from Mysore). The same would be true if she were teaching Bikram Yoga without having received certification from Bikram Choudhury's Yoga College of India in California. She might be teaching it exactly the way the teachers at Bikram Yoga NYC teach it (which is to say, by the book, to the letter). But without having taken her 9-week course and received her certification from "the man", her teaching is automatically flawed by definition.

Now, if you're Bikram Choudhury, you might sue her for teaching Bikram without his blessing. From all that I have read and heard, I don't believe that it is part of SKPJ's "plan" to go around suing those who teach "Ashtanga" without met his requirements and having received his blessing. However, the so-called "Ashtanga Police" would surely disapprove of one extending the lineage to another generation of student without having met those requirements and having received that blessing.

I am visualizing the Ashtanga family tree as follows: At the top is Krishnamacharya. His branch leads to three others just below, and these are SKPJ, Iyengar and Desikachar. From SKPJ, you have a direct line down to Sharath, Manju and Sarasawati. And you also have a direct line down from SKPJ, Sharath, Manju and Saraswati to the teachers who have been certified and authorized by the AYRI, in accordance with their requirements. And that's it. There is nothing below the level of AYRI-certified and authorized teachers that carries any weight in the eyes of the AYRI. Indeed, as many of us know, the AYRI prohibits the use of the words "teacher training" to describe any teachings other than those at the AYRI. "Ashtanga Intensive" is okay, but not "Teacher Training"...for there IS no such thing as Ashtanga teacher training...if one wants to teach, one must become a proficient, consistent and repeat student of the AYRI in the eyes of the AYRI.

That is the way that SKPJ wants it. And that is his prerogative.

There is definitely something to be said for seeking to preserve this tradition of direct lineage. To add new teachers that descend from authorized and certified teachers, as opposed to directly from AYRI, would dilute the lineage and would, ultimately, create new lineages. The creation of new lineages does not appear to be the intention of the AYRI.

Again, it's SKPJ's prerogative. SKPJ created the system, after all. He should have the ultimate say in how it is passed down ("it" being "Ashtanga Yoga as taught in Mysore, India").

So, with all of that said, let's analyze the following hypothetical:

After years of studying with a Certified Teacher Smith, Diligent Student Jones has become competent at the physical poses and the breathing exercises and also understands the philosophy that underlies it. In addition, Diligent Student Jones has come to understand the magic of the various Series, how one pose leads to others, how they are all inextricably linked (not just that they ARE, but HOW they are). Let's say that Diligent Student Jones has also come to understand not just how his body gets into the postures but how other bodies might need help getting into the postures. And let's say that Jones moves to another part of the country, let's say Wyoming, where there aren't any certified or authorized teachers. And Jones continues to practice on his own. And one day Jones' best friend asks Jones to teach him this wonderful yoga that has changed Jones's life.

Now, Diligent Student Jones feels confident in his ability to impart the joy of this practice, and he feels confident in his ability to teach the sequence, breath by breath, and he knows that his adjustments will be safe, etc....

Should Jones say no to his friend? Or should Jones teach his friend yoga, giving the gift that is yoga to his friend, as best he can? If Jones is honest about how the lineage is intended to work, and where Jones fits into that lineage (basically, he doesn't - he is merely teaching a yoga that is based on Ashtanga yoga as taught in Mysore India), then how can this be bad, as long as Jones gives credit where credit is due (i.e.,"This method is based on Ashtanga yoga. I learned it from ny teacher, Certified Smith, who learned it directly from SKPJ")?

Certainly, it isn't Ashtanga Yoga as taught in Mysore, India. But it might have value nevertheless. And as long as it is not presented as something which it is not, then all other things being equal, I can see no reason why this sort of teaching cannot be passed along with the utmost of integrity.



Sergio said...

Wow what a great post.
I've been asked this same thing myself a few times. None of my friends had not heard about ashtanga before I told them about it, because there are no teachers in my island. Some of them have asked me to show them what it is in the form of teaching them a class.
Frankly, I would love to do it, for I get the feeling I would enjoy teaching and sharing what I know. Despite this, part of me knows it's not the time yet. I have some knowledge of anatomy (I'm studying Medicine) and although I'm not even close to proficient in many poses, I do have a consistent practice and am in the process of exploring the philosophical aspects of yoga. Ashtanga has really changed my life, and I'm amazed that squeezing a couple of hours of practice is now part of my daily routine.
However, I must face the facts: I haven't learnt yoga via the traditional way, i.e., in a class, with a teacher. I just read a few books and watched some instructional videos. I have never attended any workshop and a trip to Mysore still remains a dream at the moment.
In short: in my case it wouldn't be very honest to start teaching. But that's only because of my personal situation. I don't see why Susan can't teach her friend privately. In fact, it might be perfect for both: one would have the chance to develop her teaching skills; meanwhile, the other would get a nice intro to this style of yoga before deciding to continue under Susan's guidance or finding a certified/authorised teacher.
My apologies for such a looong comment.

yoga chickie said...

You could certainly show your friends the texts from which you are working, and you could explore it together as a group...

That might be fun and useful...


samasthiti said...

It's amazing me of few words could inspire such a long post!
But you know I have been thinking that this is it. I am going to teach her. I may have only really been practicing ashtanga since last March, but my practice has been very consistent for 5 years and I have taken many workshops and I read incessantly. I have had classes where I know I am way more knowledgeable than the instructor. I get yoga. It totally changed my life. If I can bring that joy and enthusiasm to my friends life then what the heck. I'm in.

Sergio said...

Lauren: Thanks for the advice. I hadn't thought about that and it really is a great idea!

Susan: Really, having a deep understanding of what yoga is, and having experienced the benefits, noticing the progressive change it has worked in your life is about enough of a gift you can share with your friend, whether you consider it a class or not.

upsidedown90 said...

thanks for the post, yc...i am upsidedown90 on ezboard...and your perspective rocks.

I am currently in the position of "diligent student jones"---going out to teach ashtanga, after a few years under a senior teacher, without having been (yet) to mysore. (I've been practicing over five yrs and have some ashtanga intensives under my belt, and a yoga alliance training in vinyasa, too...)

notes -
1-senior teacher knows, and approves, and is writing me recommendations
2- I treasure this practice, and take it with me, and do my absolute best from what I DO know...and that's what i CAN give/do.

it is still teaching, with value, and integrity.

Thank you.


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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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