Safety has to be any yoga teacher’s foremost concern and you can be sure that this is the case as regards Vajrasati Yoga teachers.
The question is more what works and why? All Vajrasati teachers have a firm grounding in anatomy. All teaching comes from the premise that psychology is the the backdrop for any communication, so teachers are taught to observe unobtrusively.
One of the biggest difficulties a yoga teacher faces is students’ tendencies to externalize the poses. That is to say, 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 immitate the pose before them. Body types are many varied and given the flavour of our highly goal-orientated culture, it is clear that the students must be encouraged to listen to their bodies. In other words, the physical sensations must register as clearly as possible deep within the brain.
Any study of the human brain reveals that its evolution flows from reptile to animal to the present ‘animal plus’, the development of the frontal lobe having changed the most noticeably. The frontal lobe is connected with language and the formation of 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 adequatly 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, injuries have been reduced drastically. Where as injuries in classes where the emphasis is largly external (classes with mirrors, with music, etc) have been significantly on the increase.
So as far as adjustments and postural correction go, we will always observe carefully but not so as to disturb the internal focus, as walking around tends to immediately give a student a sense that there is a pass or fail to the pose and that they should be heading for a pass – i.e the external apperance 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 students are taught to communicate immediatly any observed physiological “no nos” – twisted knees, strained necks, etc – and alternatives are taught where physiology makes a pose difficult.
If, however, the student is not performing a pose exactly but is not at physiological risk, the teacher will be advised to contemplate the impact on the students psychologically. So on a first week of a course, verbal corrections will 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.
The teacher must counter-balance that decision with the intention not to make a student feel alienated from their internal experience, so as to give them the inclination to push or force their body. If the observed student is still performing the asana incorrectly, then further steps will be taken immediately if there is any risk of physiological damage, or gradually if the psychological factor outways the physical.
A sensitive teacher will 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 sensitive observation of an individual (verbally and/or demonsratively).
- Direct instruction to the said individual from teaching position (sensitivity being shown towards the student’s feelings).
- Repeated instruction from teaching position.
Demonstration or adjustment. The advantages of proceeding in this way are apparent but suffice to say that 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 (posture) whilst the pace remains dictated by the physiology/psychology of the individual. It is this very combination of activity and receptivity that gives yoga its name and reveals its true purpose.