I recently went to an anatomy re-imagining alignment course with Leslie Kaminoff, who got me thinking about the difference between a yoga instructor and a yoga teacher. Kaminoff, has been around for years, specialising in anatomy, bringing his experience and own personal observations to the forefront of his teachings. He recognised very early during his career that most people have different anatomical structures. This, of course is not as exciting as one might think and it’s not the first time someone has heard this, most medical professionals know this ancient fact. What Kaminoff, made interesting through his observations, is when a student takes a yoga class they are instructed to experience a particular feeling, or move their body in a particular way, or go to lengths to work towards a goal that may or may not be possible. Kaminoff, gave food for thought for mindful teaching approach, with the lens of ishvara pranidhanad va (by giving your life and identify to God you attain the identity of God) always.
The point he brought across is to understand the difference between yoga instructors, who are mostly newly qualified teachers, that don’t have the experience of teaching or they only want to conduct a physical part of the yoga, and yoga teachers who not only bring in their own experience into the teaching environment but majority explore different methods and teachings, which they incorporate. I’ve been here myself, there was a time in my yoga career where I would get my lefts and rights incorrect (I still do, on occasions). These days, I like to take the approach for students to bring the asana alive rather than hanging in a pose and waiting for the 5th exhale. Newly qualified yoga instructors tend to focus on parts of a class such as executing their plans, and gaining vital experience each time they practice their sequence. An artist will always have scrap books with experiments, writers will always have notes, journals hidden. No one really mentions how they crafted their art… everything is possible if you focus on your practice and make it about your growth rather than anything else.
I’m not here to tell everyone what defines a yoga instructor from a yoga teacher, but I want students to understand the difference. Students should have a fundamental understanding they are walking into a safe and compassionate environment where the teacher gives them tools to understand their own bodies and reach their potential, however small or grand it may be. There is a fine line between challenging your students and taking them through a tough sequence with compassion.
It takes years of experience for a yoga teacher to have a skilful eye on their students. Rima Rabbath, my beautiful teacher, is aware of all her students bodies, shapes, sizes, constraints, flexibilities and where they need that extra pair of hands. If you’re ever at the New York Jivamukti Centre, book a class with Rimaji, get there early and be prepared to practice mat to mat. A guarantee to have an amazing experience in her presence. Rima, in my experience and I’m sure several people will agree, is a great yoga teacher, knowledgable about all aspects of anatomy, music, love and alignment, and a great sense of humour with pure love wins you every time.
A yoga teacher, takes the student to new depths by asking them to become aware of their own alignment. Most people that come to practice surrender to the teacher and trust they are in safe hands. It’s a big responsibility which should never be undermined or taken for granted. Teachers can adopt creative ways of allowing yogis to understand what their own perfect asana looks like. There are many techniques in taking the student through the process of becoming aware of their own body, and that is only obtained through experience. Next time you take class, feel your pose through the whole of your body and allow yourself to be open to reach your own true potential.