The poses are designed to open the body, to clear the energy channels of obstruction and allow prana to flow freely. Advanced practitioners may know how to manipulate the body for their own purpose in their practice, but for someone new to yoga without the body awareness that comes with years of practice, "do what feels right for you" may be difficult to translate among the host of unfamiliar and often intense sensations that even the most basic of the asanas can incite in the body. Piver points out that largely unregulated education standards for yoga teachers in the US has inevitably led to hoards of teachers with minimal training inauthentically offering up a spiritual "experience" for their students. It seems many yoga teachers feel compelled to layer their classes with nebulous new-age motivators, all the while neglecting to assist their struggling students in refining the very basics.
My classes are low on philosophy. I like to keep it to a minimum because I find that if it's planned, it feels contrived. Sometimes, the moment inspires a nugget here and there, but generally I choose instead, when venturing beyond anatomy and alignment, to suggest tactics for dealing with discomfort on the mat, which allows the students to eventually realize these tactics in their everyday lives at their own pace if that is what they seek. However, the teacher training program I completed was big on infusing classes with motivational stories and themes. I don't care much for themes. When designing my classes, I turn to the wisdom that the body has to offer by working with the level of sensation and emphasizing 1 or 2 fundamental alignment points throughout the class to really drive them home.
Much of the feedback I received from the lead instructors during my YTT course and after the final presentation was that I do not include enough "messaging" when I teach. In response to this, a resident teacher at the studio assured me that my understanding of the body was paramount and commented that "the yoga does things to people." In other words, teach the poses well, bring people into their bodies, and the rest will come. I believe this to be true. The wisdom that yoga has to offer is experientially gained. The real essence of the practice cannot be taught, it must be found along the path of the individual.
Yet, it was impressed upon me during YTT that the quiet space in class is to be filled with optimism and enthusiasm, that it is my responsibility to keep the energy of the room soaring. Because of this, I worry about the students feeling abandoned when I quiet down and let them sit with the poses, as if they'd all just give up and collapse on their mats if I left them to their own devices for a minute or two. I know this is absurd. In spite of what I was taught, it feels natural to offer spaces of silence in every class for the students to turn inward and explore their experience more deeply. It is yoga, after all, the practice of calmly facing oneself in the quiet.
On my way to teach my class last night, I told myself rather sternly that "less is more." I resolved once and for all to be an example for my students, to let go of the teachings I received that I know to be wrong for my approach, conflicting with my character and presence as a teacher. From this point forward, I intend to share the taste I have acquired for silence through the practice of yoga and offer my students a rare opportunity to observe themselves, to face the chatter, to face the doubts and quiet them, one by one. So I will teach the poses as clearly and directly as I can. I will continue to learn as much as I can about anatomy and philosophy with the intent of creating the best possible environment for the students' self-realized experience. And I will relax and learn to trust my students to be brave enough to face the quiet.