One of the most powerful tools for yoga teachers is kinesthetic empathy—the ability to feel how a student feels in a posture.
By Sandra Anderson
You can cultivate this awareness and develop skill in assisting individual students with the following exercise:
1. Observe the student closely. Look at physical alignment, but also look for energetic qualities. Where does he seem to be stuck, unaware, tense, or compacted? What is your overall impression? Is he unengaged and not making an effort, or is he struggling and trying too hard?
2. Mimic your student in the pose while she is not looking. How would you feel if you were in a posture in the same way she is? Take the shape of her body in the posture, and arrange yourself energetically as closely as you can. If her shoulders are hunched, hunch your shoulders. If her leg looks tense and locked at the knee, lock your knee and tense your leg.
3. Compare the feeling in your body now with your usual experience of the pose, and mentally articulate how you would adjust the pose to a more comfortable, stable, or integrated position: “Draw the shoulder blades down the back and together,” or “Soften the knees by shifting your weight over the arches of the feet.” Once you’ve felt your way into the adjustment, you can verbalize the modification to your student or offer a hands-on assist.
With practice, you’ll be able to immediately sense the “feel” of your students in the pose just by looking, and can use your kinesthetic memory of how you typically experience the pose to direct them to a new and more satisfying practice.
Sandra Anderson is a senior editor of Yoga International and a faculty member of the Himalayan Institute.
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