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To Ask or Not to Ask
May 07, 2017
To Ask or Not to Ask
When should one ask questions that occur during Yoga Class?
When attending Yoga Class there is a lot going on, the instructor’s voice, the temperature in the room, the placement of your mat, props and of course the asana (pose) that we are all trying to execute. When is it appropriate to stop the instructor with questions?
I will give a few examples.
If the instructor asks you to do something that you do not understand. “I am unsure about how to “lift my kneecaps” , could you clarify? or “What does “engage my triceps” mean? Of course you do not want to interrupt the instructor after every statement, if their language is consistently confusing maybe you need a different instructor that uses more clear language.
I always encourage questions about pains in an asana at the moment they occur. “Why do I have a sharp pain in my ankle while doing this?” It is better to bring that to light as it is happening. The instructor may have several ideas to alleviate the current pain, e.g. put the foot against the wall or support the heel. Asking about this after class is of no value as it is difficult to replicate the pain after all the props are put away and everyone is on their way out, including the instructor.
Many questions are best brought up before class. Music to my ears is when someone brings a question from their home practice. “When I practice Virabhadrasana II at home, I get a sharp pain in my left knee, can you help?” This is great, I will teach the pose during class and observe the pose as the student practices and suggest adjustments in the asana to alleviate the sharp pain.
Questions that the student seems to have on an on going basis, should be brought up before class as well. “I have trouble in my shoulders in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog). What can I do differently?” Once again this type of general question is best brought up before class so the instructor is able to ask questions about your general shoulder health and once again address the situation during class as there are usually others that have similar difficulties and the instruction may help several people at once.
There are questions that are of a more private nature, always bring these up before class. “How should I adjust my practice to help with fibroid pains?” Or “I am struggling with fertility is there yoga asana that may assist or somethings I should avoid?” When theses situations come up I may give general tips to the class such as “This asana is particularly good for abdominal health. Or I will stress “This asana you should do everyday.” Everyone doesn't need to know why the asana is recommended to you but you will know.
There are statements that are not questions “I have always have trouble with my elbows.” “My left hip is tighter than my right hip.” These general statements are difficult to address. What do you expect from your instructor with these vague statements? I usual comment in a general way, “Almost everyone has a tight side and a more mobile side.” Specific questions are better than general statements.
Asking questions after class is less helpful. “When we were doing that thing sitting down I had trouble with my right hip.” It is difficult to replicate the pain while standing in our shoes on the way out the door. It would have been more helpful to bring it up while it was happening.
There is always the possibility of booking a private lesson with your instructor. But when you do this have the agenda ready. When I book a private session I always ask that the client bring the agenda, what are they trying to accomplish with the time? Is there a certain asana that baffles them? “I would like extra help with my Sirsasana (headstand).” Or a category of asana, “I have trouble with backbends.” Or a body part, “My tight hips seem to limit me in backbends and standing poses.” Or a therapeutic reason “Since my hip replacement I am having trouble being in the general classes, could you help me with adjustments in poses so I can be more independent in class?”
The questions that should not be asked are about another instructor’s teaching. That is unfair, unless I was in that class, as there are many ways to teach an asana. “Why does (different instructor’s name) teach this pose like this and you do that?” I don't know the other instructor’s intention. I will explain what I am thinking, then go back to the other instructor and ask what they were thinking. It often depends on the sequence.
Adho Muhka Svanasana (downward facing dog) is done differently as a warm up to backbends or a cool down after standing poses. Different instructions arise from different experiences and how the class is reacting to the instructions. There is not one way to teach a pose. Practice both ways at home a notice the differences.
As an instructor I notice the questions that arise and make note to myself. If there are many questions about one of my instructions I will try out different language to be more clear in the future. So the questions help me to improve my teaching.
Remember that your practice is your responsibility, the instructor guides, informs, cajoles and suggests adjustments or different approaches to asana. But I cannot talk to you and your fibroid pain will go away. You must do the work. But if you need guidance just ask!
Applicable Yoga Sutras, translations from “Light of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” by BKS Iyengar
1.21 tivrasamveganam asannah - The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice.
II.46 sthira sukham asanam - Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit.
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