- What does it mean to create a safe container?
Every sort of therapy, regardless of the intensity requires the client to feel a sense of safety and security in the space and in the presence of the therapist. W
One of the main roles we play as yoga teachers and traditional therapists is just to see people for who they really are; which from my perspective is Shiva; lord of the universe. The truth being that everyone is filled with divine beauty. Darshan is the Hindu expression for divine vision: they go to the temple to both give darshan and to receive darshan; to see god and be seen by god.
Darshan involves seeing without judgment; acceptance without condition. People can feel this and they generally feel safe in such an atmosphere. This sort of attitude of acceptance also involves ensuring that our expectations are balanced so that the client may feel empowered to take control of their own lives and be successful on their own terms.
I think it’s equally important for students and clients to understand that they are the ones doing the work and that healing will arise from within. It certainly is not the role of the yoga instructor to take any credit for any changes (or healing) that takes place. People who praise us for our helping hand would be better to direct their praise to that Shankara who is lord of the wheel of energies. This is just our luck to be present and to be used as a instrument for healing.
- Telling a student what is best for them vs encouraging them to find out for themselves?
This issue has been raised many times in different ways throughout the workshops I have been attending at Ajna. On the one hand, the body is incredibly strong and can handle almost any posture that we enter into voluntarily, on the other hand, the body is an incredibly fragile thing that can be injured for almost no apparent reason.
Yoga relies on several forms of knowledge including scriptural (knowledge of the experts) and experiential (knowledge gained thru our own experience). As yoga teachers’ people come to us because we have prior experience and study of a practice they would like to incorporate into their lives. From this perspective, it’s our job to advise them based on our own experience or personal study of the scriptures (modern scientific research on yoga could be considered scriptural knowledge in the modern context since modern scientist often play the role of guru these days).
However, telling people what we have learned thru experience or scripture is only half of our job. We must also inform students that if they have any doubt about our teachings, they should discover it for themselves either thru their own personal experience contemplative meditation.
The examples from Patanjali emphasis surrender to that divine will which is always guiding our material being, but there is another side of yoga that emphasizes personal responsibility. If everything is arising from within then the truth is that we cannot blame any of our injuries on our yoga teacher; we have to take responsibility for that. (We cannot blame anything on anyone else for the events of our lives or the way we perceive them). We cannot expect to be healed by our yoga teacher, as this is also our own responsibility.
…. This will be continued in the answer to question #4: “owning” ones own practice.
- How does my awareness of privilege (or lack of privilege) affect my actions?
By all appearances I am a middle aged white male; top of the heap.
I’ve spent considerable time traveling places like India where my white skin quickly distinguishes me as a wealthy and privileged person of this world. Add this to a society where the “guest is god,” then I most certainly take a privileged position in Indian society. In Canada, this travel is seen as leisure, which also creates an appearance privilege (how many times have I heard: “You’re so lucky.”)
On the other hand, I’m hard of hearing, metis, forest loving traveler following some foreign beliefs. I can let my appearance get pretty rough, and of course isolation has it’s own effects. Other than being a white male, whatever privileges society offers are swept away in the way marginalized people get swept away in almost any society.
Perhaps I’m especially privileged that I can choose one appearance over the other. Knowing I can choose, I generally prefer to choose the role of marginalized. It’s part of the lesson for people to look beyond appearances. On the other hand, it can be very useful to play into these appearances, polish myself up and assert my privilege to get what I want from society.
The important thing is to recognize that the world of appearance does not change what we have inside, which is where our true strengths and weaksnesses lie. We cannot take it personally when someone gives way to our privilege, nor should we take it personally when someone takes advantage of theirs. It’s always give and take and it all arises from within.
- How to empower our students to “own” their practice?
I often tell my students that my role is only to teach them yoga so that they can go back home and make their own practice in the bedrooms and private spaces. I teach pretty close to the same routine every class and try to remind them (and myself) that it’s their class; I can adjust to what they want. I often tell them that listening to me is actually taking away from a much greater inward experience that they could have at home. I ask them about their own practice (yogic or otherwise) and encourage them to follow that and perhaps discover the yoga in it even if it doesn’t seem at all like a yogic activity. I try to inform clients on the various kinds of yoga that are not necessarily asana based and encourage them to connect with those things that bring them a clean and clear sense of joy. It’s also not uncommon for me to go to people’s homes and practice (or teach) yoga with them there. And of course always trying to direct their awareness inward where they can experience their power and realize their own personal responsibility.
- Strengths based practice: how does this intersect with how I’ve been taught to teach yoga?
This field is perhaps one of the main ways that yoga and other forms of traditional healing differ from healing in the west. The experience of most traditional healers that we are not really healers at all; but perhaps, at best, we are instruments of healing in the same way almost anything can act as such an instrument when the time for healing comes. The true healing, of course, comes from within the individual. I have often been taught that my job is just to do my job to the best of my ability and not worry about results. Not everyone will get the same results and certainly not everyone is looking for the same results; they will get from me whatever they have in them to get and I will get the same from them.
This is traditional ways: give up seeking results, give up your attractions and repulsions, forget your prejudices, be aware and see people deeply for who they really are which in yoga essentially means to see ourselves deeply for who we really are: we are that shiva nature, that consciousness permeating everything, that joy and freedom that underlies everything. Be aware of who you really are and then express that in the therapeutic model that resonates with you, master your own practice (whatever that is) and share it with others, it will resonate with some people and others will be repulsed by it. This is not personal.
Yoga talks about the different kinds of students, this relates also with healing: some will be healed miraculously from the slightest hint, some will need some explanation, some will need practice and explanation, some will need even more work for just the slightest understanding, others will never get anything from us; some might get a small token, others a fortune. These things are not for us to be concerned with; this is all karma. By some combination of their luck and our luck things will happen. However, we are still very much personally responsible, so, in the context of yoga therapy our job is twofold: 1. to keep up to date with the latest therapeutic models; and 2. to cultivate inner yogic awareness. Put another way, we must be aware of all the tattva (which is all this science and nature we are studying from this guruji who has so many impressive years of experience); know them by scripture (specialists) and know them by personal experience. These classes are modern form scripture, however life experience is always the highest knowledge.
We will heal to that tattva for which we have awareness. The more pervasive our awareness the deeper is our ability to heal… ourselves….. and then we see that we are not different from those who come in front of us.
Our job is not to heal, but to be ourselves to the greatest possible degree. If our dharma is too heal, then we have a particular responsibility to be the absolute best version of that healers self we can be. If we want to teach empowerment we have to realize it in ourselves. Prove that the method works on your self and then teach that method to others.
I would love to hear your comments.