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Uncommon Respect

Teaching can be a paradox. Sometimes restricting our students' choices, offering repetition over variety, and limiting our verbal instructions can be the ideal way to help our students grow.

By Aadil Palkhivala

If students are doing a twist but cannot master the shoulder movement, then we should ask them to repeat that shoulder movement on each side three times. It's similar to the way in which a pianist practices a piano piece, working on a small part of a difficult passage over and over until it becomes second nature. Repetition is especially important when teaching complex movements. For example, in teaching students to jump the feet apart in standing poses, I teach students to bring their feet together and jump apart many, many times, until they get the feel of it. In this way, it becomes a part of their memory and nervous systems.

This principle of repetition applies on a larger scale, too. Suppose we want to teach the concept of rooting and recoiling. If we work on this in every class for a month, applying the same concept to different postures and sequences, our students will remember rooting and recoiling for a lifetime. Repeated often enough, any concept becomes a part of our nervous system and memory, and we then remember it without effort.

Less Detail (No More Than Three Points At Once)

As teachers, we strive to help our student explore the myriad details in each pose to refine their awareness. However, we often teach too many details too soon. As a result, our students suffer the ill effects of "paralysis of analysis," their brains drowning in a plethora of facts. When they think fervently about all the refinements they have to accomplish, they do none of them effectively.

The level of detail necessary for beginners is just enough to keep them safe. Focus on this first. Later, give the students the details they need to refine the posture and feel the energy of the pose. We as teachers must know the difference between the foundational details of a pose that are necessary for safety, and the advanced details—the nuances, the subtleties—that make a posture's effect more refined and powerful. It is important to keep in mind that our students are learning a whole new art. They are entering a new world and to flood them with details (just because we know them) is, at best premature, and, at worst, paralyzing.

I suggest explaining no more than three points at any one time and explaining these points one at a time. If somebody starts to tell us a recipe with more than three ingredients, we reach for pen and paper. If, on the other hand, we are told, "All you need is three ingredients to make boiled rice—rice, water, and some butter," then we think, "I can remember that." In the same way, if our instructions have too many points, our students' minds become tense and they begin to think they will never keep the instructions straight. This may not only prevent them from remembering the points but even from trying the pose at home.

Recognized as one of the world's top yoga teachers, Aadil Palkhivala began studying yoga at the age of seven with B.K.S. Iyengar and was introduced to Sri Aurobindo's yoga three years later. He received the Advanced Yoga Teacher's Certificate at the age of 22 and is the founder-director of internationally renowned Yoga Centers™ in Bellevue, Washington. Aadil is also a federally certified Naturopath, a certified ayurveda">Ayurvedic Health Science Practitioner, a clinical hypnotherapist, a certified Shiatsu and Swedish bodywork therapist, a lawyer, and an internationally sponsored public speaker on the mind-body-energy connection.

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