Safety has to be any Yoga teachers foremost concern and you can be sure that this is the case as regards Vajrasati Yoga teachers.
All Vajrasati (VS) teachers have a firm grounding in anatomy during their initial teacher training course Vajrasati general level (VSGL) out of this arises a profound respect for the interconnected and ultimatly ungraspable sophistication of the body-mind.
To teach yoga one needs to understand that psychology is the the backdrop for effective communication. Vajrasati teachers are taught to observe as a main stay of their ability to assist students and to continue to learn how their language is interpreted in action.
Whilst there is a very, very strong emphasis on observation teachers, where possible, are encouraged to do so unobtrusively.
One of the biggest difficulties a yoga teacher faces is the student's tendency to externalize the poses the tendency to see a pose in a book or from a teacher and to have the view that to practise is to simply try to imitate the pose before them. Body types are many varied and given the flavour of our highly goal orientated culture it to is clear that the students must be encouraged to listen to their bodies and allow space for intuitive adjustments that are responses to the very particular physicality of Now.
Physical sensations must register as clearly as possible with the deep brain. Any study of the human brain reveals that its evolution
flows from reptile to animal to the present "animal plus". In other words it has not evolved in a vacuum. The development of the frontal lobe being the most noticeable of the changes. The frontal lobe is connected with language and with abstraction and it is
through this part of the brain that we communicate. Clearly though, long before these later developments, the brain had more than adequately neurologically connected with the body. It is to this faculty that Vajrasati teachers are encouraged to communicate, all
be it through the frontal lobe. Recent studies have revealed that in classes where the emphasis has been on personal awareness injury have been sharply reduced.
Where as injury in classes where the emphasis is largely external (classes with mirrors, classes with music ect) have been significantly on the increase.
So as far as adjustments and postural correction go it is prudent to always observe carefully but not so as to disturb the internal focus. Walking around your students is very helpful but needs to be done with the right kind of sensitivity and spaciousness. The wrong kind of presence can tend to give a student a sense of a pass or fail to a pose (and that they should be heading for a pass) i.e. the external appearance of a pose takes precedence over what the brain is feeding back about the sensations it feels.
This is not to say that the form of the pose is not considered highly important and VS teachers are taught to communicate immediately
any observed physiological "no nos", twisted knees, strained necks ect, alternatives are taught where anatomy and physiology makes a
If however the student is not performing a pose exactly, as we know it can look, but is not at physical risk the teacher
may contemplate the impact on the students psychologically against the cons from the posture externally.
For instance on a first week of a course,or if a student is new, verbal corrections can be given, firstly as a whole to the
class in regards to a specific student.
Then if it is deemed necessary, (the student in question has not heard, or is in physical danger) the teacher will give a direct instruction to the student.
This can be counter-balanced with the intention not to make a student feel alienated from their internal experience in a way that might give them the inclination to push or force their body against their instinct (or direct deep neurological understanding).
If however the observed student is still performing the asana incorrectly then further steps will be taken immediately:if there is any risk of physical damage or gradually: if the psychological factor outweighs the physical (i.e if there is no immediate risk in performing the pose that way, or damage would only be caused if the student persisted with the incorrect position over many years of practise, or no risk at all but the student may feel pulled out of centre).
In the latter case a good teacher will continue to balance the factors as described so as to dictate the pace that they introduce the following course of action:
- Instruction given as a general point to a whole class based on the observation of an individual (verbally and/or demonstratively).
- Repeat of the instruction but reiterated, perhaps in a different way.
- Direct instruction to the individual from teaching position (sensitivity being shown towards the students feelings).
- Repeated instruction from teaching position.
- Demonstration or adjustment.
The advantages of proceeding in this way are apparent but keeping the first responsibility with the student (where safety allows)
means that the practise is likely to be deeper, more easily remembered and safer because the student has a sense of empowerment and hence enthusiasm which leads to the very engagement that keeps the brain and body synced up.
This all being said it remains essential for any Yogi/Yogini to endeavour to move towards the correct shape of any given asana whilst the pace remains dictated by the physicality/psychology of the individual.
It is this very combination of activity and receptivity that gives yoga its name and reveals it's true purpose. Yoga means
union or engagement when translated from Sanskrit to English.
It is through the process of engagement that the process of letting go is facilitated.
The more we endeavour to move towards the asana or to be fully concentrated on the mantra, meditation object or breathing
practice ect, the more the mind's presence is required and so pre-occupation has to diminish.
At first one finds minor pre-occupations (niggling worries, day to day anxiety or tensions caused from future anticipation) releasing, as the mind drops what keeps it from the engagement necessary to concentrate on the breath or move deeper into the pose, but over time and given an atmosphere of trust and support, deeper pre-occupations release, such as old wounds and the self views that have arisen around them. In fact it is eventually self view itself that begins to release. The consequence not being some kind of attack or destruction of one's being, but to the contrary the very liberation and discovery of who we really are behind all the social/cultural expectations, and behind all the projections formed through holding onto to incidents, moments, as self.
When we let go of self we don't just disappear in a puff of smoke instead we appear from the smoke of delusion. We emerge from a 'held self' that narrows our potentials and limits our possibility. A 'held self' that makes us feel that we are separate and distinct with all the vulnerability and loneliness that that entails to a self that is limitless, where all human possibility are possible A self where grudges and opinions are released to forgiveness and open mindedness.
In Yoga traditions throughout The East we find self surrender as the central practice in all techniques, and in its wake the deeply open state where understanding and profound affinity inspire the practitioner to describe their feelings as " union with the absolute", "knowing God" or the "Bodhicitta" (the effortless desire to see all beings realise the freedom that lies at their own centre).
All these aphorisms are only the clumsy attempt that words allow to describe the deep experiences that the individual may have through Yoga's beautiful cycle of engagement, release, engagement.
It is therefore clear to see why this ancient practice is an art to be wielded by practitioner and student alike with the dexterity and balance of a great swordsman, artist or poet.