Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Learning yoga in a group: science behind the fiction

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Though I charge a bomb for private sessions, I have, for the last one year decided to take a break from private classes. Most private classes end up becoming breast-beating sessions for the private students (rich people have v. rich and biiiiig problems:). For me, a direct exposure to a lot of negativity ... and just now I am in a spiritual cocoon, away from that madding crowd:)

I prefer group classes for various reasons and though people may think that smaller groups gets more of the teacher's attention, a larger group can be a powerful learning place. I have found that irrespective of the different surges of energies, irrespective of the size, a few strong positive persons can change the structure of a group and keep it reined in, from negative outbursts. I also have found, from my experiences at the ashram, that positivity can make even negative persons contain their negativity. Most importantly, a negative leader (trainer etc) can create a very negative surge of energy as can a positive trainer a positive surge:  I used to feel that, when doing sadhana or practice under different teachers.

With Prahlada for instance, u just have to be in his presence to feel your body heal, or feel your poses become deeper and that your stamina can reach levels unimagined. I have also seen that with him, generally, there is a lovely, caring energy around, and though there, at the ashrams, are the usual politics and gossip and the irritants that crop up when so many different people of disparate origins get together,  when he is there, all that seems to be in the background rather than foreground of people's minds. This is a matter of experience for me, and it is amazing because I myself see no logic to it. For me this is purely experiential!! And, I recall how after cracking my knee at a kickboxing session just before I went to assist  him last March, I was worried because I could not even sit down on the ground or walk straight.I did not know how I would present myself as an assistant with that cracked knee... But when at the ashram, suddenly I was doing the lotus! Heavens... I am a sceptic, but it actually happened, so I feel, hey, there is something at work here!!!

Below, some excerpts from an article I wrote for Mid-day, long while ago, that  carries this idea forward, with science as a backdrop:)
  • Behaviorists say every group acts like an organism. A group’s collective health is a sum of its individual parts.Chaos theorists (studying how the universe and its individual components were constantly self-organizing though observers may see only chaotic patterns) have cracked how flocks of birds (schools of fish, etc ) sense a predator in milli-seconds, zipping and changing the entire flock’s direction towards safety. This danger signal ripples among thousands of creatures in an unbelievable one-seventieth of a second. An evolutionary trick, it protects the group by making strong emotions contagious.
  • Management schools use this tactic for managing large companies, enterprises.  The most famously-used example shows how when three persons were made to wait in a room, the two dead-pan others were infected emotionally by the more expressive third. Though not visible to naked eye, sensitive sensory detectors picked up mirco-expressions which proved this mechanism kicked in within one-fiftieth of a second after social contact.
  • Feelings are contagious: According to a Yale university study, most infectious group feelings were anger, disgust, fear, joy, sorrow and surprise. Called entrainment, this `mirroring’ (including expression and actions) is an evolutionary hang-over. When fear strikes, brain’s primitive amygdala clamps rational thought, `freezing’ us. This is why having a bold student execute a pose, immediately assures the others and calms them into attempting it. This may explain why if the trainer is fearful, the students will resist the pose! Which may also explain why it may not be so easy to teach advanced poses, even if u can yourself do it!! 
This may be also the reason if I find there is somebody very fearful, I like to shift or shuffle them into a group which is strong. A strong group can hold up a weaker person. Sometimes some students resist this, because they want to resist the learning or not leave their comfort zone, or even more disastrous, do not want to participate in the growth of others... that also is there!   I also don't like one student dragging his partner or friend or spouse down, as tends to happen.  I have lots of patience with inability, with physical weakness, with slowness in learning, even with negativities like anger, in a class but sometimes  I am glad when some students drop out, when they resist learning or progresssing in practice for too long, despite my constant prodding -- Then I get bored (stamina, duration, regularity, discipline, these do matter for the teacher more than that fee u pay!!):  that they leave is the best not just for me, but for the entire group!!

Though there are lots of studies to show mirroring works etc, still, am I nutcase to use it or be aware of it, while teaching? This sort of nuanced stuff, it can block  a teacher's ability to make money, seriously !!! 

But then, my guru takes care of me:) I have a strong sense of conviction that this is the way he wants me to be... I know that for sure!!

So, yes, I may remain a pauper of a teacher, not having sold myself as I well ought to. But  I feel very rich, in ways many of u wont know or understand:) I feel just so,  even in those months when I chose not to teach, am with myself, without the money trickling in from classes. Then, those days I am ... a yoga teacher, without students.
A nobody, doing nothing, having nothing, in a nowhere land, going no place.
Mmm, now why does that feel like bliss:)

1 comment:

Geeta said...

"A nobody, doing nothing, having nothing, in a nowhere land, going no place.
Mmm, now why does that feel like bliss:)"

Very nice...some words just touch the heart..resonate..nice article..Thank you, Shameem.