After a bit of a rant last week, I've been thinking a lot about how to incorporate the idea of honesty into my yoga classes - how to talk about it and how that idea actually manifests in the physical body. How do you think and act honestly in class as a student and a teacher and what poses represent your most honest and authentic self?
In my various trainings I've heard a lot of "don't." Don't say a pose is easy or hard. Don't say somebody looks perfect in a pose. Don't give your students any "free" time or time where they have to choose their pose. I remember in one session, even, somebody talking about how to trick your students into going into an easier pose if they aren't ready for the harder version - don't be honest with them, just trick them! It felt a lot like I was being told to how to spare people's feelings rather then how to empower people to make the choices that were right for them. And something about that has always felt dishonest to me. I mean, barring somebody actually looking like they are breaking something or seriously injuring themselves, I can honestly say that I often see people looking perfect in poses. I see many people looking different from each other, but still perfect individually. So why would I not say that? I see nothing wrong with saying "this is the easy version of this pose" because sometimes one version is easier than another and I don't think that means it is lesser than. Why can't I just I tell my students something is easier while also letting them know that they are all awesome no matter what they are doing? I think my job as a yoga teacher isn't to avoid making people feel bad, but to give my students all the information they need and from there to let them make a choice they feel supported in, and comfortable & confident with. In order to get students to be honest with themselves and their abilities in class - we have to be honest with them.
Sometimes this means we have to tell it like it is. It might mean telling somebody they aren't quite ready for a pose based on what we see. It means learning how to tell somebody that in a compassionate way. It might mean encouraging somebody they are ready for the next step, but not pushing them if they say they are not. Sometimes it is telling the whole class that a certain pose isn't possible for everybody, maybe ever. And that that's ok. It's about trusting that your students, if given the information, are capable of making the choice that is right for them and beyond that, are capable of finding the perfection in themselves wherever they are. It's about teaching yoga fully - giving our students the tools to accept any version of a pose and never making them feel bad about their choice. Telling somebody the truth while still showing support and compassion isn't easy, but it is something I think is incredibly important in the teacher/student relationship.
As yoga students - we have to be honest about what our bodies are capable of from moment to moment. There are lots of things going on from pose to pose that inform us of how to proceed - the last of which is what our thoughts have to say about it. Your thoughts can trick you into pushing too hard just as easily as they can keep you from growing a pose. The physical body, however, will usually tell you what's up. You can be honest in your class by listening to your breath. Is it really labored? Are you able to take in full inhales? How fast are you breathing? If you have a labored and fast breath - that's usually a good indicator to ease up. If you are able to take slow and deep breaths, you might have the capacity to take it to the next level. Are you feeling sharp pains? Back off - or better yet! - try to let your teacher know so they can help. When you are holding Warrior II, your mind will start screaming at you about how your quadriceps burn, but don't listen. Inform yourself by checking in with the physical sensations you are feeling and the rhythm of your breath - and decide based on what that information tells you. Don't try to imitate the people around you, don't always listen to your thoughts and take the time to assess so you can make the decision that is most authentic in that moment.
So, I guess, we incorporate honesty simply by being honest and encouraging it in others. And by paying attention to what's really going in our bodies. And by not always listening to our thoughts...
I've also been thinking about what my most honest poses are. I'm not even entirely sure what it means to be an honest pose, actually. Is it a pose that I do well? Is it a pose that I'm really terrible at? Is it a pose that makes me feel vulnerable? A pose that makes me feel happy? Like, if I told my students they had free time to make a really honest shape, how would I even explain what I meant by that? The more I think about it though, the more I realize I'm relating honesty to authenticity. I think that our honest selves are our most authentic selves. The more we present ourselves honestly, the more people see our authenticity, and the better we present ourselves to the world. Seriously, authenticity looks good you! So, I guess what I'm asking is what poses or shapes make me feel like my most authentic self? I immediately feel like the answer is chakrasana, but I think I still need to think about why. Something about vulnerability and fear and strength... not sure yet.
What is your most authentic shape?