Is touch essential?
It is a question that every teacher will be asked inevitably, at some point. The teacher’s role is to give the keys to a successful practice. This is especially true for beginners, who need to quickly locate landmarks.
Each teacher has a personal style for correcting students. In my experience I’ve found that, regardless of their particular course of training, there are several approaches to correct students and perfect alignments.
The main purpose of the correction is to focus the alignment, as to give the exact path of an inner search for accurate guidance on the exterior. This determination involves the pedagogy, methodology, but also sometimes a commitment that that leads to a guiding touch upon students.
There are those who speak only, using the voice to provide guidance.
The most talkative teachers are not the worst. In fact, listening to instructions allows students to focus on their own feelings. However, this will ask students to “spend” some of their conscience and while focused on listening to the instructions, which may be to the detriment of research of inner calm, even during complicated postures as Halasana or Sarvangasana. But at least the student benefits from the verbal advice to achieve the postures.
Beginners, not customary anatomical considerations, and still not knowing their bodies, may be disappointed with the outcome of simple, vocal instruction.
The next category would include demonstration, as the teacher shows the asana and possible modifications.
This classification of teachers will accompany the student to come in the entrance of posture, placing them well in the basin, or helping to activate certain bandhas. In a group class, it is not easy to do that for each student.
In general, the teacher can decompose the final posture, taking care to ensure that everyone is aligned, as in Sirsasan for example, where it should be ensured, before mounting, as the forearms and elbows are placed over the head and neck alignment!
Let’s not forget that there also are those who correct after the fact.
This family of teachers is the most numerous. It comes after the fact to readjust posture—one leg bent enough, a misaligned hip—here the student is already in full meditation posture (or in distress!), And the professor will upset the balance he thinks he has found.
For my part, I was always upset with those teachers who came to correct my alignment in the effort. This technique would cause me to become distracted and lose my posture. This is the same in the position of warrior (all variations considered) which felt an arm or a foot even I change my state has already made me almost fall.
Then, there are those who handle the student. These are the purists.
This class allow freedom through the postures. They are found in the more dynamic yogas.
Here the teacher manipulates the student, realigns the arms, opens the hips (sometimes with a belt) but not necessarily the in every possible situation. Manipulations to an inflexible person can lead to the injury. Suffice to say that the teacher had better know your student.
That reminds me, during my training, when we learned to do Paschimottasana. We students had been asked to “lift” by the ischia (part of the pubic arch). My buddy was very embarrassed, and I even more. I have not come for that, because we had nothing more than putting your hands on the buttocks. I’d never seen a touch correction like that and I’d never done it myself. But to feel the importance of this support, we had to go through it.
These are situations that are uncomfortable, though only for the moment. The long term benefits of the correction dissolve feelings of uneasiness.
During my first class, I found myself faced with this dilemma of correction. I noticed that my students asked me to correct them, because they were afraid of doing yoga wrong. Then I passed the oral method, encouraging students to understand the posture. This may take several sessions before I indicate urdvah munkah for example, that the body must touch the ground with the instep and the hands, knees being raised. This position is not really natural at first.
By understanding my students, I can correct them, by touching certain areas easily identifiable (shoulder, knee, foot, hip, shoulder blades), but I do not intervene “in force” to ensure proper alignment for example, in trikonasan. In this case, I indicate with my hand position of the hip which should remain locked and anchored, and the other, I show at the clavicles to be opened at this level. And I rectify the hand in the air to ensure the verticality of the arm. But I do not do this myself open action, by circling the student with my arms—I show him just where he needs to act to achieve it.
And above all keep the oral contact with explanations as clear as possible, asking the student how they approached and apprehended the posture once it is completed. If successful, it certainly will claim the next time.
An absolute confidence in one’s teacher is required to accept being touched, and to reach this stage, it requires a perfect knowledge of the other.
Translated and edited by Jill Barth.
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Mike discovered yoga in 1995 while at University. Mike took a course in 1999 at Paris Sivananda center, which included two modules of hatha yoga. His objective was to understand the basic postures, constituent of the sun salutation, and embrace intermediate postures. This led to a regular personal practice.
Between 2002 and 2006, Mike attended regular classes offered bydifferent teachers, primarily in hatha yoga, ashtanga and bikram. In 2011, he developed his knowledge and experience through 200 hours of yoga teacher training at the French Federation of Yoga (hatha/vinyasa) at the studio of Gerard Arnaud.
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