Teaching during Medical Treatments—Or Not?

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Dean Lerner's Reply:

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Dear Mary,

Given thoughtful consideration, perhaps your teaching/health dilemma can be resolved and a proper course of action will become apparent. In a way, you answered your own question when you asked, "How can I continue to teach while I deal with medical treatments and am unable to do the poses myself"? Your question shows your common sense in dealing with yourself as well as your concern for dealing with your students.

First, it seems as though you are asking yourself permission for a leave of absence, a sabbatical from teaching so you can care for yourself. I advise that you grant yourself this permission. How can you give to others if you are not healthy yourself? Your first priority should be to regain your health and your own yoga practice. When you have overcome your difficulties, you and your teaching will be filled with renewed inspiration, energy, insight, and compassion. No doubt your students will understand, appreciate, and support such a decision, even though they might miss you during your sabbatical.

Occasionally circumstances are such that we must teach in spite of an injury, or when we are not at our optimum. In this case, a teacher then relies on experience to conduct the class in a different manner, employing various techniques. If the teacher is unable to demonstrate the posture, he or she may request that a student demonstrate the pose according to verbal instructions. When verbal instructions are coordinated with observable actions, the learning process is greatly enhanced. Students can learn without visual examples—numerous instructional tapes and CDs testify to this. In a class situation, however, learning is done on multiple levels, and verbal instruction is just one of them. Usually the students want to see a pose done correctly in order to learn it. Interestingly, if a teacher gives a verbal instruction and then demonstrates something that's contrary to the instruction, many students will instinctively follow the observed action rather the verbal command, no matter which is correct. On the other hand, once students are engaged in the asana, verbal instructions are usually both effective and proper, as they guide the students to penetrate to the depths of the asana and their own senses of being.

Certified Advanced Iyengar instructor Dean Lerner is co-director of the Center for Well-being in Lemont, Pennsylvania and teaches workshop across the United States. He is a longtime student of B.K.S. Iyengar and served a four-year term as president of the Iyengar National Association of the United States. Known for his ability to teach yoga with clarity and precision, as well as warmth and humor, Dean has conducted teacher training classes at Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana and other locations.