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Tears Of Recognition

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

(from a collection of stories on teaching entitled, Openings).

A woman wanted me to watch her teaching yoga. That’s part of what I do; watch people working and coach them as to how to do what they do more easily, more pleasurably, more meaningfully, more effectively.

Kumi begins by simultaneously demonstrating and explaining how to do a particular yoga movement. Both her movement and explanation are clear. I watch the students watching and listening to Kumi. By the end they look slightly overwhelmed: perhaps too much information at once. Some fear perhaps, “How am I going to remember all of that?”

I ask Kumi to stop. I tell her what, in my view, she did well. I make a suggestion. “I’m wondering what would happen if you told your students that you were going to show them a yoga movement, and then you did the movement in silence, as if you were alone practicing only for yourself. What do you think?”

Kumi agrees to give it a go. For a while she sits in silence. It’s the kind of silence you can hear. The students lean slightly forward, eyes wide open. Kumi begins. I can see she’s in unknown territory. She doesn’t do this when she teaches. She really wants to say something. I see her preparatory inhale, and before Kumi has the chance to speak I kindly whisper, “Shhh…” She continues silently. By the end I can see pleasure and beauty in her face. So can the students.

“Okay Kumi. Good job. What do you think about doing only the very first movement in that lovely sequence and then inviting the students to practice that movement on their own, at their own time? Just for fun.”

Kumi consents. I can see she’s comfortable moving in silence in front of her students. I’m thinking, “That was quick.”

The students look excited. They begin. Again Kumi’s getting ready to say something. I softly intervene. “Kumi come sit down over here. Get some distance from your students. Just watch them. Look how different they are. She’s watching. Her eyes begin to water. “Kumi, Who are they? Who are they? Find out.” Her eyes lower. Her hand comes up over her eyes. She’s crying. Strongly. Tears of recognition. “I never really look at my students!”  “That’s okay Kumi. You do now.”

Frank Ottiwell, one of my Alexander teachers, once said to me, some twenty years ago, “Bruce, don’t try to help your students. Get to know them instead.” Right then, Frank changed my way of teaching forever.

Yes. See them and they will begin to see. Listen to them and they will begin to hear. Know them and they will begin to understand.

I was happy to have the chance to pass that on.

Thank you Frank.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bruce, thank you. That’s so lovely. And follows my thoughts after teaching this morning; I was aware of the discussions going on on Facebook reminding me of the ‘we don’t work on a student, we work on ourselves’. And I thought, ‘I jolly well DO work ‘on’ a student, but truly, of course, I work ‘with’ a student. This because to me, to just puts hands-on and look to me seems the most disconnecting and alienating thing I can do. I remember doing a visiting morning on a training course a few years back and, having the group to myself, asked them to not puts hands on anywhere they had been told. To begin to ‘sense’ to them within (even thought they said they weren’t yet getting feedback), and to stay away from the student until they felt ready to come up to them with a great awareness of them. Then be still, enjoying the coming together of two people. And then to just allow a hand to go wheresoever it seemed to go. They were amazed at the clarity of their intention, where their hands went, and amazed at the results! No, within my self-awareness I am working ‘on’ my student at all times – just with great togetherness. And I will step back a bit more often and also not say so much; I have let that slip in again. Thank you for the reminder. I am loving your writing, thank you.

    March 4, 2013
    • I like that phrase – with great togetherness. You sound like a wonderful teacher. I have always preferred using the word “with” rather than “on” when being with people. It feels more respectful. In a similar vain I tell my students that I never touch a person’s body. I only touch a person. I am so glad you not only like, but love my writing. This is encouraging. Thank you for thanking me.

      March 5, 2013

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