Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Help with Hyper-Extension

Here is a tough one – how can you help students who hyper-extend knees and elbows to feel alignment? Here is an idea that works for those who are already quite aware of their bodies (and sometimes beginners too). Tell your students they should be able to feel both sides of their joint equally. Try it. Fully straighten your leg right now and then press back on the knee. Even if you don’t hyper-extend, you probably feel the back of the knee more than the front. You definitely feel the back more if you are hyper-extending. (This action should produce pain, but if you have hyper-extending the joint long enough, the pain receptors basically wear out). Now slightly bend the knee just until that point when you feel the front as much as the back – you are now aligned. Do it for you elbow too. I love to use this one for myself in Tadasana – I hyper-extend my elbows. When I stretch my “elbow pit”, I can feel it strongly, but then I lose my elbow (the other side). When I release the joint so I feel both sides equally, my hand just lights up because the energy can get to it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Our Responsibility to our Students

I had a student years ago who, still to this day, holds the record for being the tightest student I have ever worked with. She had tension everywhere. She studied with me for around seven years until I moved away and in those seven years I never saw a visible improvement in her flexibility. Yet she was one of my most dedicated students. She only missed classes when she was out of town, even coming in with sickness or injury.

For the first two years she was with me, I realized I was trying to “fix” her. Of course, I had the best of intentions. I wanted her to feel good in her body; to feel the release that comes when you finally let go of whatever you are holding onto. Even with the best of intentions, though, wanting to “fix” someone has too many emotional attachments and their yoga becomes more about you than them. Which is exactly what happened to me.

After the first two years, I began to feel that I wasn’t a good teacher; that I wasn’t serving her since I felt I couldn’t get through to what she needed. (And by the way, that was my assessment of what I thought she needed.) Then it occurred to me – she was not only coming back, she was very regular. She was obviously getting something from class and from me that was serving her. Why did I think I wasn’t helping her?

From that wonderful experience, I learned not to “judge” a student’s experience by her advancement in the art. A student’s lack of flexibility is not a reflection of your teaching. Yoga is so much more than what your body looks like in the poses. We do not know what our students’ experiences have been in life. My student obviously experienced some type of trauma in her life (or past life) to cause so much rigidity in virtually all of her joints. It is up to her to release, not me, and forcing it on her could cause a release before she is ready. It is especially not up to me to judge her experience. Our job is to hold an open, loving space for our students to do their own work, to feel safe to explore themselves, not to “fix” them.

When I finally allowed my ego to fully remove itself from the situation, it was that space that I provided for her that served her so beautifully to gently experience her body on a new level. Perhaps her work with me prevented her body from tightening further, perhaps I planted seeds that are just now germinating. Truly it doesn’t matter because I know I gave her a safe space in which to explore. Be that safe space to your students. You needn’t be attached to their progress. Let them decide their progress while you let them unfold at their own pace.