Giving Nuanced Guidance

By Mark Stephens on Fri, 04/08/2016 - 01:34

In communicating with our students to convey insights about how they might best approach and explore their practice in a way that reflects and embodies the principles of steadiness and ease, perseverance and nonattachment, we can tap into a variety of resources—speaking, demonstrating, touching, and for some even singing to evoke the spirit of being fully in this self-reflective and potentially transformational practice. The specific combination of techniques we use in any given situation ideally reflects both our personal sensibilities and our best sense of how the students we’re teaching might best explore and learn in keeping with their own intentions and sensibilities. Indeed, how people learn is closely tied to what Howard Gardner (1993) refers to as “qualities of multiple intelligence,” which vary considerably in any given class. Some students learn well from verbal messages while others need a visual model in order to “get it” in their bodymind. Still others are primarily tactile or kinematic learners: they need to feel it in order to most fully comprehend it internally. In yoga classes, where the learning experience includes conceptual, emotional, physical, and spiritual elements, this full range of learning styles is always at play.  


At the same time, a human being is more than the sum of her or his intellectual or intuitive tendencies; motivation, personality, emotions, physical health, and personal will are often more significant than a particular learning style in shaping how, where, and when one learns. This suggests that effective yoga instruction should address these differences while engaging with students in a way that appreciates and honors the rich variety of learning styles. With hands-on yoga teaching, we can work with students to guide, refine, and support their developing practices beyond the expressions and limitations of the spoken word and visual demonstration. Put differently, the beautiful diversity of conditions, intentions, and learning styles suggests the value of a richly varied and nuanced approach to teaching.