One of my assumptions as a yoga teacher is that many students will come to the yoga class with some strong ideas and opinions about how the practice of yoga should go. This may involve ideas about what the teacher should do as well as expectations about themselves. I see one of my roles is to help students practice with compassion for themselves.
I see compassion as a development of and feeling of empathy for oneself characterized by kindness and generosity. It is all too easy to bring strong judgments to the class based on past conditioning and out of an expectation to be able to perform to one’s expectations.
Some of the ways in which I promote the compassion of practice include queing the yoga students to be mindful of their attitude as they practice and to pay attention if judgments surface about themselves or the class. When judgments surface, let go or let be and notice that the judgments often promote stress and discomfort. This may not be easy as often judgment arise spontaneously and often they can occur with our full awareness.
At the same time, encourage practicing the asanas out of sense of inner balance. By practicing with mindfulness, the yoga student can learn when they are working “too hard” and it might not be necessary.
Another assist is to have a brief talk at the beginning of the class about letting go of expectations over the class time. This serves the purpose of bringing these kinds of inner dynamics to the surface before the class starts.
As I am writing, I am thinking about the poem, Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver. This poem captures the spirit of self compassion for me.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems
Beacon Press, 1992