What’s Your Agenda?

November 14, 2008 at 9:13 pm | Posted in compassion and connection, inspiration, learning and growing, meditations, philosophy, practice off the mat, questions and conundrums, The Eight Limbs | 2 Comments

In addition to teaching yoga, I also teach college-level English.  I’m writing here about both of them because, where this question is concerned, they intersect quite nicely.

I wrote here about a student who left a comment on an  end-of-term survey at one of my jobs.  The short version of the story is that the student felt that I used the class to forward an agenda, and that s/he felt that the class was less about the reading and more about my opinions.

I don’t think that the student was wrong, exactly, but I don’t think that s/he was right, either.  It is not unreasonable for ANY teacher to be who s/he is in the classroom; teachers are not heartless computer programs – it’s never just about the material for the course.  What makes teachers good – or not – is, I think, the level of themselves that they choose  – or not – to share with their students.  I said as much to my boss – you can read my full response here.

I’ve been thinking about this question as it pertains to my yoga instruction, as well.  How much of my “agenda,” which can best be described as lefty-humanist, would I be appropriate in bringing into my classes?  Was it okay for me to remind my students to vote on election day?  Is it appropriate for me to remind my classes that there is much suffering in the world, and that each of us has the power, though our thoughts and words and deeds, to help ameliorate that?  How far can I go in encouraging my participants to take love and kindness and compassion off the mat with them?

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I am careful to leave faith out of my yoga classes.  I ask students to play with their own energy, and I refer only to “the Universe” and never to “God.”  I want, though, for the people who come to my yoga classes to leave with a feeling of connection to a higher power, and to feel as though they are a representative of that power in their world.  I tell them that this habit we have of coming to class and unrolling a mat and twisting our bodies into funny shapes is only a tiny portion of a complete yoga practice.  I remind them that yoga can work to help us locate and nurture our highest and best selves, and to use that to inform our choices in everyday life.

I can’t go into a classroom and leave myself at the door, and I don’t think that I should.  Bringing myself – my passion and my energy and my love and my questions – makes me a better teacher…. and a better person.  Isn’t it part of my responsibility as a teacher to model the lessons I’m seeking to teach to others?

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  1. I have the same balancing act in my fitness class. I have to be “me” because it’s more natural and fluid and it’s one of the reasons that people come to my class. You can learn fitness on a DVD at home if you want for less money but it’s not the same as being there.

    My views on politics and health are far from mainstream though so I try to keep light on these topics. It’s a fitness class though so I’ve been going a little more into health issues and the games that are being played at peoples’ expense.

    I don’t think it would right to say that you have an agenda. You teach what needs to be taught and you share some of yourself in that teaching. You aren’t out to brainwash people but give them some awareness of how you see things. You wouldn’t grade them lower for not agreeing with you. The student that complained is going to find the same pattern repeated class after class and needs to enjoy the exposure to different ideas from people who study the issues.

  2. I’ve never been to a yoga class and know pretty much nothing about the practice, but my impression was always that the classes were about more than just learning the different poses. I thought that in addition to learning the physical moves you always go to learn the life philosophies behind or attached to the physical practice.

    Are there yoga classes in which the instructors do nothing but teach the poses?


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