The Art of Differentiation

Addressing Yoga Student’s Needs: The Art of Differentiation
Yoga Teachers Training Program at the HIYC

You may have had the experience of being a teacher of twenty-five or more students. Possibly you have this experience daily. If so, you have likely encountered the difficulty of meeting all the students’ individual needs. No matter the subject matter taught, the needs of students differ. Students of all ages have varying attention spans, differences in how quickly they grasp certain content or in the method through which they learn best (visually, audibly, experientially, etc.). Students also have different personalities depending on their genes and life experiences or upbringing. All these factors influence how successful they will be in learning and how successful the teacher will be in teaching the students effectively.

The art of teaching effectively involves many aspects. One of the most important of which is differentiation. Differentiation in the classroom means tailoring one’s teaching to the needs of the students. In courses where the wellbeing or safety of the individuals is at stake it is especially important to ensure that each student learns well the content. As teachers, we want to ensure that students do not harm themselves within or outside the classroom by misusing the teaching. This places much responsibility on us teachers to be attentive, skillful and diligent in our work.

In teaching Yoga asanas or pranayama, differentiation is critical. Not only does everyone have their own unique mind, but everyone has a different body with different physical challenges and needs. Furthermore, if the student learns an asana incorrectly and then continues to practice the asana incorrectly, especially for a prolonged period of time, the probability of injury is high. Hence, for the teacher to achieve their purpose of imparting the knowledge, skills and attitude of the practice, the teacher must properly and very carefully attend to both the mind and body of each student. The teacher must meet the students at their level of mental and physical development and most critically help the student grow their own awareness so that they can go on practicing without the assistance of the teacher.

Typically in a yoga class we find one teacher and more than 25 students of varying ages, personalities, and body types. Unfortunately, the needs of most individuals in a yoga class are not met. Not only this, but the teacher often does not even know about the past injuries or mental situations of each student, or have any knowledge or experience in adjusting the practice or approach to meet the student needs. First of all, it is difficult to manage such a large class solo. Second of all, the training of yoga instructors typically does not include a thorough course on yoga therapy and anatomy. So what can be done?

The Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre, under Yogacharya Sharat Arora, addresses these issues sensibly. The rigorous teacher preparation program and structure, as well as the therapeutic approach of the teaching itself, allows for the Centre to meet individual student needs. One significant aspect of the teacher training is yoga therapy, at which point the teacher covers common physical challenges and the variations in the asanas to address them. The teacher also discusses how to motivate and work with different personality types drawing largely from the wisdom of Ayurveda. Another critical part of the teacher training is the required teacher assistantship that is done by the teacher trainees once they complete the teacher-training course. This assistantship is an excellent invention, as it both helps to meet individual student needs better and helps the teacher to-be to gain hands on experience before conducting their own classes. The students are able to receive individualized attention and assistance from the teacher assistants, while the teacher trainees become more knowledgeable about how to meet different student needs by learning from the advanced lead teacher and from assisting classes of students with many different needs. Everyone benefits.

Additionally, the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre asks that new students complete a registration / introduction form in which they write any previous injuries or physical as well as mental challenges that may need to be taken into consideration. The forms of each student are discussed during the introductory session of the first day before the 5-Day Yoga Course begins. The discussion includes the whole class. The reason for this: although all people have their individual issues and needs, many issues are common. Examples of these include: tight shoulders, lower back pain, knee injuries, hyper extended knees or flat feet. In this way the teacher can explain the necessary props or adjustments to all the people concerned together and answer any questions for all to hear and learn from.  

The Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre (HIYC) is an excellent example of how we can ensure that the teaching of yoga is of high quality, safe and effective as it works diligently to meet the needs of its students.

Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Polina Mischenko

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