In light of the recent redesign of our yearly training courses, which now place a greater emphasis on the importance of one-to-one learning from mentor to student, we have chosen to republish the following post, originally published by MindBodyBrew on March 4, 2013. This post was written by TaraMarie Perri, the Founder/Director of The Perri Institute for Mind and Body, whose professional work is dedicated to yoga education and research, holistic health therapeutics, and the integration of mind/body practices with the arts and sciences. TaraMarie holds an MFA and serves on Faculty at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Click here for more information on our training courses, and here for descriptions of our private yoga and wellness offerings.
Did you know that yoga was classically taught one-to-one? The tradition of teaching was followed because each person required yogic guidance unique to his/her mind, body, and philosophical curiosities. It was an honored arrangement between master teacher and student requiring careful selection for both parties to create a healthy partnership for lifelong learning.
“Direct transmission” through oral tradition was the historical method of learning via the Vedic teachings, philosophy, asana, and meditation.
Only when the yoga masters decided to market the practice to attract more students to yoga schools in the 20th century did the popularity of group classes arise. Consequently, the group format traveled easily to the West, along with other imports of mind/body practices from our friends in the East. In modern day yoga classes, while a teacher may strive to bring the traditional spirit of individual focus through smart cueing and thematic material, there is often a logistical limit to the amount of personal instruction. Group yoga class formats foster community and supportive learning environments, but private yoga sessions offer a certain depth and guidance to each individual. The journey of learning from one teacher takes on a special connectivity that just cannot be replicated in a multi-student classroom environment.
Having a private yoga teacher has many benefits. He/she can provide a supportive environment when dealing with injuries and illness, or during pregnancy. Beginners and advanced practitioners alike can find their own reasons to begin with a master teacher as they seek foundation or personal evolution.
What is endlessly fascinating to me as a teacher is how many variables are in play when designing a program for each new private student. The start of the journey is always meeting the student where they are: embracing strengths and previous knowledge and cultivating awareness for what they need or what they wish to learn. Reinforcing their strengths is important but so is bringing them something new each session to challenge them or push their edge to new frontiers. Only by staying in the present with them in each session does the next lesson’s pathway become clear.
While a general direction of learning may seem obvious from the beginning, students often surprise me along the way, demanding a re-development or re-direction of the studies. Students often surprise themselves in discovering that the reason why they started with a private teacher is not the reason why they continue! The message of a personal yoga practice is a powerful one. As a teacher, I can guide a student and support them along their personal practice path. As a student of classical yoga traditions, I may have the knowledge and resources, but each student needs to hear the information differently – in their own time, through translations intended for their individual minds/bodies. In my opinion, identifying and applying an individual approach is the definition of being an effective teacher. Listening, observing, and cultivating awareness, in partnership with effective communication, while presenting the lesson are the tools of an effective teacher.
So rather than “direct transmission” which implies a one-way path, I offer the suggestion that learning one-to-one is actually a dialogue for which a two-way transmission is ultimately required. When structured in this way, the partnership between master teacher and student is a living, breathing, organic arrangement that can last for a few sessions…or an entire lifetime!