In the western world fitness has had an enormous impact on how we approach hatha yoga, or the physical postures. One of the most obvious and detrimental effects is the belief that more difficult the postures, the more benefits gained – physical, mental and spiritual. This is often the beginner’s mindset. While the effort it takes to achieve a handstand can motivate us to work through challenges in all areas of our lives, the spirit of yoga is LESS is more–slowing down for stillness, and selecting from a variety of poses, including those that require surrender, not strength. Just as a new follower of Christ may consume scripture to fast track spiritual growth and development, the new yogi checks off a list of poses to achieve “mastery”. The effort is applaudable, but misdirected. Holy Yoga instructors have the challenge and opportunity to teach their students that practicing discipleship on and off the mat requires quality over quantity, and stillness over endless study.
As always, if an instructor fails to get results through telling the class to slow down, she must first take an honest look at her own practice. Students, as a rule, don’t do what instructors tell them to do nearly as often as they imitate what they are shown. If the instructor tends to move rapidly, the students will strive to emulate and even “improve on” what they see—turning rhythmic movement into an all out workout. Therefore, the instructor needs to set the pace by going even slower herself than feels natural, until the class learns to follow suit.
Excellent instructors also know how to use intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to help students achieve desired results. Whether correcting alignment or offering a new modification, it’s important to tell students why. This takes the directive from the realm of the instructor’s style and opinion to having the student’s best interests at heart. Rather than just wanting them to do it your way, you truly become the teacher, seeking to elevate them in reaching their potential. In terms of slowing down, explain that slower transitions and longer holds accomplish the following:
Draw out the breath, increasing lung capacity, releasing tension, and activating the body’s relaxation response.
Allow one to truly feel what is happening in both the body and mind, for healthier responses verses impulsive reactivity.
Demand more strength and control. Allow for opposing muscles groups to lengthen appropriately.
Increase opportunity for mindfulness practice, integrating body, mind and spirit into the flow.
Teach the lesson that less is often more, which is best learned through experience.
Finally, extrinsically reward your students with verbal affirmation. Using specifics, tell them what you see and the impact it’s having on them and the class at large. For example, “I’m so inspired by the concentrated effort in moving through Son Salutations. By not rushing, it’s clear that you are ready to receive in class today, which is indicative of a disciplined practice and hearts ready to be led by the Holy Spirit.