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Strength of Mind

Although we sometimes see the world in relativistic terms, in yoga, some teachings actually are wrong. It takes strength of mind to recognize the difference between correct and incorrect actions and to speak the truth.

By Aadil Palkhivala

In my previous article, I wrote about why developing mental flexibility is so important for our growth as yoga teachers. Unless we develop flexibility of mind, we cannot grasp what is true for each student in each situation--or, for that matter, for ourselves. However, just as flexibility of the body can go too far, resulting in a loss of control or even injury, the mind can also become so flexible and open that it is unable to discern relevant truth or convey it with conviction. We can find ourselves trapped in a world where everything is relative, all options are valid, and decisions are nearly impossible.

Just as we strive to balance flexibility and strength in the body, so must we strive to balance a flexible mind with the strength to discern. As we learn different truths, we must be able to discern between them and clearly discriminate whether an alleged truth is appropriate for our own practice or for our students. This is strength of mind.

Judgment vs. Discrimination

Mother Theresa once told a friend of mine, "When we judge people, we donít have time to love them." While this is true of the judgments we make about people, discriminating between appropriate and inappropriate actions is very different from forming judgments about the person performing the action.

As yoga teachers, we must recognize the distinction between judgment--which is subjective--and discrimination--which is objective. Discrimination is essential for a yoga teacher. We must be able to think, "This pose is being done incorrectly. I must change what the student is doing or she will get injured." Such necessary discrimination comes from knowledge, experience, and the urge to help. Because recognizing misalignment does not depend on the subjectivity of the observer, any teacher with proper training will perceive the same problem.

On the other hand, judgment is based on "me"--my beliefs, my opinions, my prejudices. When I view the student through these narrow filters, I make a determination that is usually biased and invalid. As teachers, we must develop the ability to separate our own bias from an objective assessment of the students, and be able to discern what is appropriate and inappropriate for their progress. As we turn away from judgment and toward discrimination, we can help students understand what is correct and incorrect for their practice.

Correct and Incorrect

Occasionally I say that a particular teacherís instruction is incorrect or that a particular movement is inappropriate. Very often, this is a matter of different truth levels rather than of objective reality. For example, the teacher might be teaching something that doesnít fit the level of a particular student. The teacher might be giving advanced postures to students who donít even know how to contract their quadriceps. Or the teacher might be teaching mudras and bandhas to students who have not yet mastered the basic alignment of the spine. This can be dangerous--if the student cannot feel the energy from doing a mudra or bandha in a posture, such practices can damage the studentís nervous system. In these cases, "correct" or "incorrect" is a matter of the appropriateness of the instruction for the situation.

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Reader Comments


This is a great article and I hope you will write more like it. However, I find in many of my students, (most over 50 with no knowledge of yoga, and a lot of men!) that body awareness is so limited that it takes months just to get a basic understanding of what and why they are there in the first place! So subtle nuances are out of the question! Basic mobility is all they are striving for. I see so many articles geared to intermediate, mobile students. You can't have intermediate students without a good concept of beginning poses.
PLEASE keep writing articles that set up these parameters and help us keep our students safe.

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