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Yoga – Teaching With Compassion
The mind will strive to create in the body exactly what it believes to be true. As self-help author Earl Nightingale says, “You become what you think about.” When I was ten years old, my daughter came home from school one day and said, “My teacher told me again that I’m not good at math. If she keeps telling me that, how am I going to get good at math? My daughter apparently feels the power of the mind more clearly than her teacher. In the immortal words of Milton, “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
Years ago, a student of mine suffered from chronic spinal pain that wouldn’t go away no matter what I did. She even studied with Iyengar for ten years and couldn’t get any relief. After 25 years of pain, she finally decided to see a doctor. After a series of tests, the doctor told her she had lung cancer and it had metastasized to her bones and spread to her entire spine. She had two months to live. I tried very hard to convince my student not to submit to the doctor’s death sentence. After all, she had been in the same pain for over two decades. Unfortunately, it was too late. She had lost hope by giving up all her power to the doctor. Two months after the day of her diagnosis, she was dead. This example highlights how, as teachers, we need to use our deep influence wisely and choose every word carefully. Careless words can destroy a life, while thoughtful words create the power to flourish.
This approach is not about hiding the truth. We must tell our students the truth that we see. However, we must avoid an inflexible attitude that says, “It’s the truth and I must tell it at all costs!” We must tell the truth in a way that serves the student by always reminding them of their power to bring about positive change. We have to balance Ahimsah with Satya: non-harmful with veracity.
The language of transformation is the language of compassion. What transforms our students is not a barrage of fiery words meant to burn their egos, but the flame of love, warmth and caring. If we have a student who is stubborn and important, we cannot help him by knocking on his ego, because the ego, in defense, builds a hard shell around him and becomes inaccessible. The way to transform the ego is with compassion and warmth, so the ego removes its outer mantle and allows itself to be available for change.
We probably all know teachers who belittle their students because it makes them feel more in control and enlarges their ego. These teachers can be our models of how not to teach. As teachers, we can ask ourselves, “Do I want to look awesome or do I want to help my students grow?” Do I want to be the star or do I want to create stars? Do I want to impose my pose on the student, or do I want to help my students go within and discover their own poses? Am I serving my student or my ego? We cannot serve both.
The art of guiding others is knowing how to help them harness the power of their own minds and enable them to overcome their resistance to transformation. In time they will adapt to the inner guidance rather than being scattered and misled by external references and comparisons. We can help our students use the power of their minds to destroy or build, stagnate or transform, bury or rise, imprison or liberate. Evolution is only possible with freedom.
© Aadil Palkhivala 2008
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