Teaching Yoga – Feeling Peace

Like a fish unaware of the polluted waters it lives in, we are so surrounded and infused with stress that we don’t even know it’s here. As yoga teachers, part of our job is to teach our students to become aware of when, where, and why they are stressed. Chronic stress, constant fatigue, and incessant stimulation are an integral part of our culture, so five cups of coffee are an unfortunate part of many people’s daily routine. It’s no wonder that stress has become the way they feel connected to their world. Our duty, in part, is to help our students break this popular addiction to stress and stimulation. We must remind our students that stress is not an indispensable part of life. Peace is.

During class, frequently remind your students to pause and feel what they are doing, both while they are performing a pose and immediately after. While they are doing their poses, ask your students to feel the weight of their body dropping into their heels, or feel the pressure of their fingertips pressing into the ground. The mind automatically enters a reflective state when asked to observe what is going on inside the body.

As your students pause after each pose or after each flowing series, encourage them to bring awareness into their bodies and create equanimity in their minds before proceeding. Closing the eyes creates calmness because the body responds by shifting the nervous system from its active, sympathetic state to its quiet, parasympathetic state. Opening the eyes reverses this. For example, when students have finished Balasana (Child’s Pose) after Shirshansana (Headstand), I ask them to come out of Balasana with their eyes open, sit on their heels in Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose), and then close their eyes. I ask them to tune in and feel whether Shirshasana has left behind a remnant of agitation or an aura of peace. If they feel agitation, I ask them to internally resolve: “Next time, I will do this pose with a heightened awareness to create more peace. More peace.” Then I ask them to open their eyes and move into the next pose.

We feel peaceful only when we feel safe. As soon as we feel fear, our primeval animal nature is roused and our sympathetic nervous system triggers the “fight or flight” response. Hence, it is our duty as teachers to make sure our students feel safe in class. When they do, their parasympathetic system comes to the fore, allowing self-exploration and healing. Self-exploration is hardly a priority for one who lives in fear. As our leaders demonstrate, with appalling regularity, fearful people are more concerned about defense and countering the aggressive force of an “enemy,” even though the enemy is usually in their own mind, and often is their own mind. When a student appears to be fearful, ask yourself, “What have I done to make this student feel unsafe? What have I not done to make the student feel safe? Is the student reflecting my doubts or fears? If so, do I have enough training to teach what I am teaching? Is my egoistic desire to appear competent creating fear in my students and destroying their peacefulness? Or has this student dragged her own fears into class? If so, how can I put this student’s mind at ease and help her feel safe?”

Our classes should be tranquil antidotes to the feverish fervor of modern life, giving our students time to tune in, pause, and feel. Let us not reduce our classes to just one more hectic episode in a student’s day, one more unrelenting blur of intense activity. Uninspired teaching creates sweat alone. Inspired teaching creates a connection with the peace of the soul.

© 2008Aadil Palkhivala

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