In the East, yoga evolved in India as an esoteric science. The teacher chose only select students and only the best students became teachers. This process of selection and advancement required both the teacher and the students to learn how to harness the ego. Since the goals of yoga were unification of the individual to the divine, the yoking of the mortal self to the immortal Self, egoism went contrary to the goals of yoga. A chosen student and an elected teacher had to be humble about their roles and duties.
In the West, yoga has taken a different path. It is now considered more of a consumer service, with less focus on the ultimate spiritual quest for yoking with the divine and more focus on self-improvement through movement, breath, right eating, and balanced living.
In western culture, the egalitarianism, democratic ideals and Socratic dialogue makes the idea of shared privileges the norm. Student selection is not based on merit or attitude but merely the ability to pay the requisite fees to attend a session. This may give students a sense of entitlement since they are paying. If the teacher fails to measure up, then their yoga business may close down. In turn, teachers also risk the egoism of having a large group of people hanging on to their every word. So, egoism is possible in both directions. Students can become egoist because they pay for the teacher’s livelihood while teachers can be egoist because they command a large group of people to do exactly what they say
When students assume the attitude of paying customers with a right to make specific requests on how the teacher should conduct themselves in class, like patrons in a restaurant sending back a meal they don’t like, teachers need to decide whether or not to be flexible.
When to Be Flexible
Be flexible if demands are reasonable like the student cannot hear your instructions from the back of the studio. It is reasonable to make an adjustment. Perhaps, the student can be brought up to the front of the room or you can talk louder when giving instructions.
When to Stay Firm
Be firm when students make unreasonable requests. For example, a student may dislike the Ashtanga Yoga taught accustomed to a much slower type of yoga. In this case, it is important to stay firm, stick with your teacher training and not cater to whims and complaints. On the other hand, studios should not send beginners to Ashtanga, Power or Vinyasa classes. Additionally, students should be informed as to what type of class they are walking into.
Be firm when students make unreasonable demands. For example, a student would like you to teach less asanas and take longer with each one. As a teacher, you have to stand your ground and explain why your particular routine is the one that will bring the best results.
Now, I have pointed out the students who want less physical activity, but there are students who will walk into a Restorative class and demand difficult asanas. Again, these students who want a hot or flowing class do not belong in your Restorative class and you are best course of action is to point them toward the best possible class for them.
This change in culture from East to West requires that Yoga training courses do their best to harness ego. Teachers and students need to learn to cooperate with the larger agenda—the teaching and learning of yoga. With reasonable flexibility, conflicts between teachers and students can be adroitly handled without egoism.
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