Aparigraha and an Educator’s Power – yoga teacher training journal #2

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

A recent training brought up a lot for me. In my reflection I’ll be intentionally vague, so as not to compromise anyone’s anonymity. I don’t think this should detract from my reflection, as what I’m taking away from these experiences should and will generalise to many different contexts.

We have a core group of trainees and teachers with whom we’ve begun to develop relationships. During part of one day, a new teacher was invited into the space to share a workshop on a separate but related skill. This teacher’s mannerism and style of delivery felt so antithetical to what the training has been so far, that it was very hard for me to be receptive to what they were offering. At the start, it was specifically that – that it was a delivery more than an offering. There was a palpable sense of “here is my knowledge and ability that I am going to impart upon you, and you either will or will not absorb it correctly.” It got me thinking about aparigraha, or non-grasping.

Aparigraha is one of the five yamas, or guides for how we interact with others. The yamas are one of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. Asana, or the postures, is another. While Western practitioners often focus the majority of our yoga practice on asana, it is important to remember that it is only one of eight equally important limbs. Pranayama, or breath, is another. The rest are non-physical. I am interested in focusing my practice on the yamas over the course of the next few weeks to really go deeply into each one.

Aparigraha can be interpreted as not hanging on to material wealth, a kind of minimalism. Take only what you need, no more, and let go of what is no longer necessary. How can this be applied to teaching, we might wonder? I think there are many ways, and most of my current teachers have been modelling it so beautifully. Seeing the stark contrast between my usual teachers non-grasping and the grasping of this particular teacher really threw me. Here are some concerns I want to keep in mind both in my yoga teaching and primary school teaching. I’d be so interested to read your reflections and experiences in the comments below!

1. Be aware of how I use my power and the influence I have as an authority in the room.

We talk a lot about mistakes in my classroom. Everyone makes mistakes, and research shows that mistakes are how we learn and grow our brains. I model mistake-making, and my learning about growth mindset for my students is the only way I’ve been able to manage my own imposter syndrome. I like to think that everyone makes mistakes as an educator too, and that that’s okay as long as we know we must constantly reflect on our mistakes and make amends. I think it’s so important, however, for educators in any context to consider our approach. It is dangerous whenever a person in authority presents a certain way of being as the correct way. We need to be clear that each person knows their own body best, and we need to be self-aware and secure enough to make it abundantly clear that our students always have choices. When we are secure in ourselves, we have no need for grasping for authority. Our students must feel safe enough to say no or to simply do things in their own way. My yoga teacher trainers, who have decades of experience, do this in a skilful and confident way. I never doubt their expertise, but I also feel empowered to make my own choices about my own body. They know and clearly communicate that what works for them or for the majority of their students won’t work for everyone. No one is right or wrong or broken if their experience is different. I never feel that I am doing something just because my teachers said so.

2. Correct my mistakes as quickly as possible and move forward.

This builds on the first. I’ve agonised about certain things I’ve said for years and years, sometimes so long that I’ll never actually have the opportunity to go back and talk to the person about what I said. These were often throwaway comments that just “came out wrong,” and I realised hours or days or even weeks later how it could have sounded. With young kids, we never know what’s going to stick, so we actually have to be really careful. Sometimes parents agonise for years over something they said when their child was four, only to find out their child didn’t remember it. However, there are things people said to me when I was four that I remember and am still affected by as an adult. Furthermore, even if the child may not remember the specific instance of what you said, they will remember how you made them feel! (See Maya Angelou, above.) In a yoga class or another setting in which students tend to be vulnerable, this is just as true of adults. The feelings that my actions bring up for my students can influence how they respond to other situations for the rest of their lives. This realisation is heavy.

There are two ways I practice aparigraha when avoiding a mistake. One way of grasping is to agonise and be so consumed by the guilt that I can’t actually address the mistake. The other way is grasping so hard to absolve myself of my sin that I reframe the situation in my head, convince myself, perhaps only on the surface, that it couldn’t have been interpreted the way I worried it did, and then try to forget about it (essentially grasping for innocence). Instead of putting all that effort into grasping and making it all about me, I need to just meet the issue head on. As an educator, I can address the individual or the class simple to say, “do you remember when I said xyz? I think I made a mistake here and I’d like to make a space to talk about it.” Or “Can you tell me how you felt when I said xyz?” And I can apologise. I can show my students that I am human and that their feelings matter. This can be done with any age.

No matter what, our position of authority as the educator in the room will change how the space feels. We have the responsibility to make it an empowering one.

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