“Teaching Without Teaching”

This one is from October 2014, but thought I would share anyway!

“True teaching and learning cannot occur while the student remains a passive recipient of the teacher’s instruction, but it occurs only when the student is actively motivated to learn”

Marichyasan D, my nemesis. Each morning I struggle to inhale, ring my intestines out like a towel, and exhale, wrap my arms around my legs like a pretzel. I have been battling this posture for months. At first, Zoe, my teacher, would guide my body into the posture. After becoming more able in both my body and mind, she would let me try on my own, requiring my body to comprehend and understand the movement of the pose. Only after experiencing the pose for myself would she adjust further, allowing me to successfully complete the posture. And as my body and mind continue to gain ability, she leaves me to combat my body into the pose, if I’m lucky, helping me to clasp my hands at the last second. If Zoe always helped me grab my hands I would not feel the burning desire to do so on my own. She would become a constant crutch.

As Zoe steps to the side, she is teaching me the most. Zoe teaches me not to rely on her help. In Western society, we value comfort over most everything else, even happiness. However, it is in the moments of discomfort that we achieve the most growth. While Zoe’s assists are “comfortable” (relatively speaking), there is a point where they are no longer helping me grow within the posture. While people are there to help guide us in life, you cannot get stuck in that zone of comfort. You must find peace in that discomfort and fully experience the pain and surrender to the struggle, but keep doing the work. Zoe is constantly reminding me to “try harder”, allowing me to see my true potential as I fight to achieve the posture on my own.

“The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon”

             The Alchemist

We often find ourselves focusing on the end result of a posture, forgetting the necessary steps to get to the final asana. The agony of the pose is necessary to learn the lessons before you succeed. When we feel any sort of pain, our instincts scream, “RUN AWAY!” But, if we take a moment to just stay and simply explore the pain, if only for a moment, great lessons unfold.

Suffering is pain multiplied by resistance. Pain is the constant, but resistance is the variable we control. Rather than resisting the pain, we can ease our suffering by surrendering to it. We need to learn to be with pain, simply feeling and breathing through it, before we may proceed. In life, our image of the way things “should be” or where we want to end up prevents us from seeing the beauty in the raw experience, even if it is painful. But not until we honor and surrender to what is can we transform.

“Freedom is not considered being able to follow one’s wants and desires without hindrance. Instead, it is conceived of as freedom from attachment to one’s wants and desires. For ultimately, in addition to external sources like oppressive society and authoritarian government, the original agent of compulsion is the self…If self-attachment is the cause of why one is not free, then the quickest way to liberation is to cut one’s attachment to self”

As my hands slip out of the posture, Zoe encourages my anger and to use that frustration to motivate me in my asana. Rather than giving up, my failure and anger are channeled into developing “tapas”, or discipline, in both my mind and body. While I am encouraged to feel that anger, I am also taught to let it go. Each day as my flame of desire to clasp my hands grows, I learn and relearn that I cannot be attached to the pose. Some days are successful, others a challenge. In this attempt at “vairagya”, non-attachment, I am reminded to come onto the mat with beginners mind. In the moment, my entire being wants my hands to hold onto each other. I feel like I am hanging off the edge of a cliff. But I cannot allow myself to be attached to staying atop the mountain, or how I think the pose should feel. Maybe I need to fall off first to water the flame of desire. In the splash of cool water, my failure reminds me to let go of how I think the pose should be and honor what is present.

My Mysore practice is gradually transforming me from the inside out. At first, I would not practice every morning, coming most days, but sometimes hitting snooze in the morning and coming to a later Vinyasa practice. Though my friends would praise me for making it to the mat each day, Zoe called me out on my bullshit. In doing so, I was able to really feel that Zoe cared about me, her scolding was a gift, and almost the Ashtangi equivalent of saying, “I love you”. I knew I was slacking, but Zoe to held me accountable for what I deep down knew I needed. At first, I found myself on the mat each morning because I simply didn’t want to disappoint her (and slight fear that she would make my practice harder if I didn’t show up regularly). But I now find, that even when Zoe isn’t there and I try to hit snooze, the tapas is within me and I am intrinsically motivated to make it to the mat in the morning. Through my practice and Zoe’s “tough love”, I have established a discipline that resonates within, intrinsic motivation.

In a typical yoga class in the West, from the moment you step on the mat, an instructor is guiding your every breath and motion. While the instructions are merely suggestions, the teacher guides you through each pose with formal verbal instruction and more informal learning through assists. However, in a Mysore practice, you do the exact same practice every day. This time, a teacher is not guiding you through each pose. You are the guide. The student becomes motivated to seek the through him or herself. This embodies both informal and situated learning methods. In the practice, you learn to let your breath and your body guide you—through ease and pain. As you guide yourself through each posture, you become more connected with the body, breath, and your crazy monkey mind. You change your identity through the practice as you develop tapas and learn through the postures. Though each person in the room practices on their own, the difficulty bonds one another, creating a sense of comradery through the individual experiences of the same asana.

Mysore practice embodies “Teaching Without Teaching”. Rather than being task oriented, as teaching by teaching (as seen in the West), teaching without teaching is person oriented, developing character and intrinsic lessons while simultaneously achieving asana. On the surface, teaching without teaching does not demonstrate the most effective way to get the job done. However, this method forces the student to rely on their own insight and intuition, learning within as they achieve a task. The most efficient way for me to grab my hands is if Zoe pulls them together for me. But, as she steps to the side, I am left with my mind and body to truly learn how to complete the posture. Not only learning how to physically accomplish the pose, but how to handle the obstacles within myself along the way.

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