Tears Of Recognition
(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.