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Note to the Yoga Teacher: Meet Students Where They Are

Posted Jul 21 2008 10:01am

I've studied with some excellent teachers. I've read some amazing books. I've had some enlightening experiences on and off the mat and in trainings. Yet, my biggest lessons continue to come from my students/clients. In the Krishnamacharya lineage -- of which I'm currently a student -- there is a belief that you meet the student where he/she is rather than push him/her to where you (or the student, for that matter) think he/she needs to be. Let's face it -- change and transformation are very personal things and need to be done at a person's own pace. Yet sometimes -- in my effort to help -- I forget this.

Note to self -- not everyone is like you, believes the same things you do, feels the same way about yoga as you do. I know this, yet sometimes I forget. I get caught up in my own personal feelings about how amazing and life-changing the practice of yoga is. Ooops!

Over the past few months, I've been working to correct a physical issue I've had for quite some time. Ever since I was 11 years old, I've had stomach acid issues. No ulcer or acid reflux -- just painful burning before and after meals. My dad has been plagued with stomach issues since he was young, so I chalked it up to heredity and took medication for it. After being on a prescription drug (a simple acid reducer) for a few years, I decided it was time to look at things from a more yogic perspective. I went off prescription drugs and switched to over the counter. Now I take nothing for it (yes, I'm doing the drug-free happy dance right now).

The moral of this story is NOT to blow off Western medicine, ignore the advice of doctors, and discontinue the use of all prescription medications. Just to make lawyers everywhere happy -- I'm not endorsing these activities.

The reason I tell you about this is because I had a problem and after looking at it from a different perspective and utilizing my yoga therapy training (and my teacher's advice, of course) I decided that it was possible to change it (note how I phrased this -- Idecidedthat I could change it -- I had faith in the methods I was using and I made it my intention to change it). The change didn't happen overnight. In order to feel better, I had to look at my structural issues and some behavioral issues (mostly around eating). I made modifications in my eating, my yoga practice, and some other habits. It's taken time and effort. I didn't go the quick-fix route.

Wait for it -- the connection to my original topic will become clear.

A few months back I was contacted by a client who had a number of physical symptoms that she desperately wanted relief from. At the time my client load was full and I wasn't taking on new clients. Still, something about this woman's words made me feel for her so I took her on. During her very first session she used the phrase "I've tried everything." Something about that phrase caused alarm bells to ring in my head. I ignored them because she was obviously committed because she showed up to this session.

To make a long story short, I never heard back from this woman after our first session. My reaction was very telling -- I was angry. I had put myself out to squeeze this person into my schedule. I had taken the time to design a practice for her and gave her a number of techniques to use. I really wanted to help this person. I wanted this person to realize that over time yoga could make a huge difference for her not only physically but mentally and emotionally.

Gee, that's a lot of "I"s. That little story wasn't about ME (gotta love the ego rearing up and turning events into your own personal drama). That story was about HER. I realized after about 5 minutes of internal bitching that I had gotten attached to the outcome of our work together AND I neglected to meet this woman where she was. Perhaps she wanted a quick fix. Perhaps she was unwilling to spend the time on a daily practice. While I gave her a brief practice (about 20 minutes), I seemed to miss the fact that this woman most likely had resistance.

As a teacher, I can't do anything about that. I can only assume that when a student comes to me that he/she is ready, willing, and able to learn and practice. I can only hope that the student has faith in the practice of yoga and the changes it can bring. I can only meet the person where he/she is on that day in that moment. I am not responsible for the outcome. I am responsible for giving the student my presence, my knowledge and my guidance. I, cannot, however, give my student a specific result. My student must take responsibility for that. He/she must put in the work, must have the faith, must have the commitment to the practice. This person is not me. My assumption that she would be willing to put in the work (as I did to relieve my physical symptoms) and make lifestyle changes was unfair to her and unfounded.

I still find myself saddened over what didn't happen, I am so grateful for what did. I learned that my attachments have no place in the teacher/student relationship. It's not about agenda. It's about commitment, faith, and openness.

So I release my urge to grab this person by the shoulders and shake some "sense" into her. Instead, I meet her where she is without questioning her actions/motives/intentions. And the teacher becomes the student...


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