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Hayden, a Whole Life Yoga teacher training graduate asks: A student asked me today how he could measure his progress in my drop-in classes, since they vary so much week to week. He mentioned, in particular, other yoga classes that always contain sun salutations, and how, if you do them regularly, you can tell that you are getting stronger. But since I don’t want to do regular sun salutations with my class, how can I design drop in classes so that my students are experiencing growth and can see it? This seems easier to do in a series.
Hi Hayden! As is usually the case, I don’t have any quick and easy answers to this question. Gary (my teacher) always says that real progress in yoga practice can best be measured by your relationships. If your relationships get more stable, your yoga practice is working, and vice–versa. He also often says that if he were forced to measure the “accomplishments” of his teacher training graduates, he’d evaluate the level of their neuroses. Remember, according to the sutras, physical prowess was never the intent of yoga practice. The intent was clarifying and calming the mind.
Viniyoga is multi-faceted. It can have an orientation that is developmental (Siksana), like my Energize and Strengthen series, therapeutic (Cikitsa), like Yoga for Healthy Backs, or spiritual (Adhyatmika), like my New Years Day workshop.
Physical practice is indeed easier to measure in series classes, as you have the same students over and over again throughout a defined time period. A drop-in practice is trickier, as it’s designed each week based on the students present in class. But drop-in students can still pay attention to how they feel in common poses over time. There’s absolutely nothing magical about sun salutations. They are simply a series of specific postures done in a flowing manner. You can measure physical changes in any posture that is taught over and over again.
The trick is to teach the same posture over time and ask students to pay attention to how their body responds to that pose. For flexibility, seated postures work well. They block escape valves so progress can be more directly seen. The lateral adaptation of janu sirsansa, deep twists, or regular old pascimatanasana work well for this. For strength, poses such as plank, caturanga, half squats, arm balances, or all of those lovely prone postures work well. Progress in those poses would be measured in how many repetitions a student can do or how long they can stay in the pose while maintaining a smooth breath. For endurance, any flow done repeatedly over time works well. Breath adaptations in asana and pranayama practices provide effective measurements of breath development.
But the bigger question, I guess, is why is the student practicing? What do they hope to gain? And why are they so concerned about measuring themselves? Remember, external measurements are really antithetical to the goals of yoga practice.
Finally, as a teacher, you need to decide who your audience is. Each class you teach must meet the individual needs of the students present. This is no easy task–believe me, I know. You may find over time that you need to segment your students into levels, such as beginning, intermediate, and advanced. Otherwise you won’t be able to adequately meet the needs of anyone.
But above all, please remember, that emotional stability is much more important that any external physical measure. External measures are more about ego than real growth.
I hope that helps!
More information about Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program can be found at our web site: Yoga Teacher Training at Whole Life Yoga.