compassion in yogaBy Gopi Rao

There is no way one yoga teacher training program is going to make anyone compassionate. You can learn to develop it or you may already have it, but a 200-hour yoga instructor training won’t suddenly make an intern compassionate toward others.  Compassion is a yogic principle based on a firm understanding that we are all connected to each other, and that someone else’s pain can be mine or vice versa. It is a slippery concept, though; for example, in studies that have looked at a person’s level of compassion in relation to their social status, those who control more resources register lower in compassion than those who don’t.

Although scientists may not be able to provide evidence to support a theory of why this is, human experience can explain this phenomenon fairly easily. The more self-centered a person is, the more difficult it is for that person to have feelings of empathy toward others, and the more a person has, the more difficult it is to empathize with someone who has less. Similarly, the more a person has, the more that person can distract him or herself from pain, stress and human wounds. People with less have fewer things to fall back on.

Yoga advocates connecting with pain because looking our wounds fully in the face regularly puts us in touch with the brokenness and tragedy of human experience. When we do this, we cannot only articulate our own needs that arise from our pain, but we will be better able to anticipate the needs of others.

Compassion in Teaching

Yoga teachers must train themselves in their own practice to address painful emotions, using breathing techniques to steady themselves when the discomfort gets too difficult. As they do this, they will find they become more sensitive to the pain in their students’ lives.

Why does a teacher need compassion in yoga? The answer is simple. Students often look up to their yoga instructors, sometimes believing them to hold the keys to wisdom and happiness. So teachers who address their own pain in practice stay grounded in reality while connecting on a clearer level with their students.

In other words, have you ever been tempted to roll your eyes at the student who is always stressed, been frustrated by the one flirting while wearing a wedding ring, or been angry with another who cannot get the pose technique down and slows down the class? Connecting compassionately with your students may help you better understand the anxiety of the first student, the loneliness of the second or the discouragement of the third. As you understand their pain, you can better anticipate their needs, enhancing both your kinship with others and your students’ experiences.

Connecting with one’s self to better connect with others is what compassionate teaching is all about.  Whatever anyone learns at a yoga teacher training,  empathy toward others must be addressed.  It is true that safety and technical methods are important, but compassion from yoga teacher to student seals the bond.  Always make your students feel welcome and comfortable.

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