Aktualisiert: 21. Feb. 2021
I remember in one of the first studio Yoga classes I ever attended – back in the day when studios were open – the lovely teacher, Mariel Witmond, gave me a physical assist. I was in Downward-Facing Dog, and she softly placed her hands on my hips and guided them backwards, decompressing my spine. I clearly remember the moment of shock about being touched by the teacher – I would never have expected that. I also remember that at the end of the class, I was crying because I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and gratitude wash over me. That was the first time I understood that Yoga classes are different from school classes, and that Yoga teachers' approach is fundamentally different from that of school teachers.
I am both a Yoga teacher and a secondary school teacher in training, and for some time now, and I have struggled to unite yoga teachers’ guidelines with what I am taught to behave like as a school teacher.
During my various internships at school, I noticed that the whole classroom situation was based on the assumption of a knowledge gradient: the teacher always knows more than the students, which empowers him/her to grade students’ performance. Grades are a vital pillar of the classroom hierarchy, and they're the reason many students are afraid of either their teachers, their parents, or both. Starting in primary school, and throughout most of my school life, I was terrified of my maths teachers. I remember walking to the classroom with my heart beating in my chest, then cowering in the back of the classroom hoping to be spared by the teacher. I regularly got my homework back with pages of equations crossed out in red, and I was regularly crying over bad grades.
There are no grades in Yoga because there is no ultimate and uniform goal that all students have to achieve. I remember my teacher Julie Montagu emphasizing this aspect in teacher training: Yoga practice is not a means to an end, rather, the practice itself is the goal. We label poses as more or less advanced in order to give students a heads up as to what level of physical challenge they can expect, but truly, a pose is only as challenging as the practitioner chooses to make it.
Yoga teachers don't depend on a grading system to create a learning atmosphere because they see teaching as service. This means that the roles of teacher and student are never fixed, and that learning is a mutual exchange: Students learn from the teacher, but teachers also learn from their students. My students teach me how to be the guide they need me to be, they teach me about my own shortcomings and insecurities, they test my determination and resilience, and they challenge me to move past my edge. In return, I do the same for them, and so we help each other grow. Crucially, this is more than a contractional relationship – "I do this for you if you do this for me" – it is a respectful and caring relationship between equals.
While I'm sure there are school teachers who see their work as service and who are willing to learn from their students, university teacher training doesn't talk about these aspects which in my opinion are crucial for nurturing a healthy classroom atmosphere that encourages growth.
Something that is utterly and shamefully missing from the classroom environment is the practice of giving feedback. I don't know about you, but I never said thank you to my school teacher, even if I liked them, and neither did my classmates. At University, we get to fill in an anonymous feedback form at the end of each term, so at least that’s something. But children come out of school unprepared to give – and often enough also unprepared to receive – constructive feedback. This lack of communication helps create the resentment many students hold against their school teachers: They feel they are misunderstood, they feel the teacher dislikes them and treats them unfairly, or they assume the teacher has given up on them.
In contrast, after a Yoga class, it’s completely normal for students to reach out to give feedback to the instructor, or just to say a heart-felt thank you. What I have noticed in my own yoga classes is that students who are still at school are extremely hesitant to give feedback and also try to keep it as impersonal as possible. But Yoga gradually teaches us to be very aware of and grateful to our teachers. As Jay Shetty puts it in his book, Yoga increases your awareness of how your teachers – humans, but also animals, nature, experience – shape you and allow you to be the person you are. Yoga builds a chain of gratitude that links teachers and students and leaves no room for resentment.
How often in your school life did you study like a maniac only to regurgitate your knowledge in the exam and then delete it from your memory? My impression is that students increasingly see their time at school as learning for exams, not learning for life, and I believe that in lockdown and since the switch to online classrooms (at least here in Germany) students' intrinsic motivation has hit rock bottom. Most students leave school pointing out that they "never learned anything in subject X" (for me it was maths).
Yoga on the other hand is associated with learning for life, because classes provide you with tools like asana and pranayama and meditation that help you lead a kinder, more mindful and more connected life.
My bottom line is this: The problem is not that Yoga is "good" and school is "bad," the problem is that the two are kept separate. There are so many ways in which students of all ages could benefit from Yoga's practices and wisdom in the classroom: For a start, how about guiding a nervous student who is about to be questioned through a short breathing exercise first? How about beginning each lesson with one cleansing breath all together? I want to bring more of Yoga's wisdom and practices to the classroom and I know I am not alone with this vision: I was fortunate enough to meet Derin and Rachel, two wonderful mothers and Yoga teachers, who plan to bring Yoga to their childrens' schools.
I would love to hear YOUR take on this topic so close to my heart,
Thank you for reading,