Monday, April 27, 2009

Homer's Bowling Ball

While Homer’s bowling ball is unlikely to enter our vernacular like Occam’s razor or Schrodinger’s cat, there’s still a lesson to be learned from Homer Simpson. In an early Simpsons episode (#7G11), Homer Simpson bought his wife Marge an expensive birthday present – a bowling ball engraved with his name - Homer. Marge was understandably incensed, though Homer tried mightily to rationalize his behavior.

Homer observed that Marge was unlikely to use the bowling ball, and rather than this beautiful bowling ball sitting unused, Homer thought himself cleverly proactive in monogramming his name on it.

Clearly Homer’s gift wasn’t about Marge, but about himself. All too often, we find yoga teachers unconsciously behaving like Homer. Rather than teaching a class suited for the diversity of the students in their class, teachers often stick with techniques they’ve found relevant in their own practice. I’ve heard many teachers state confidently that their classes are based on their personal experience. While I’m a firm believer that an effective yoga teacher has a daily practice, I find that teaching from personal experience can be more exclusive than inclusive. We’re all limited by our perceptions. What has worked well for us has little bearing on whether the specific technique is useful or not for others. It’s more a commentary on our individual constitution and history.

The master-teacher’s worldview includes an understanding of individual differences and the role of constitution in perception. With this understanding, the master-teacher can predict how to reach individual students, and are less likely to project their own experiences onto others.

When we expect our favorite techniques to work for others, we often unconsciously judge those who don’t share our experience. Similarly, we often shine more warmly on those who share our experiences. This tendency has caused a lot of suffering for the human animal over the millennia, and every day we read the news only to learn more examples of how this tendency gets us into trouble.

Can we use the yoga practice to see ourselves more clearly? In that process, we find that our perceptions are highly colored by our constitution and history. When we hold others accountable to the standards we’ve set via our personal perceptions, we’re likely to hold ourselves apart from the richness of the human experience. May this yoga practice help us melt those delineations, and see that underneath our constitutional differences and life-history we’re all made of the same stuff.



skigirl40 said...

Scott...applies to more than teaching yoga...see lots of similarities in "master ski teachers". Loved this and the Homer usage.

Sachin Malhotra said...

hello dear friend,
ur blog is very nice...
pls visit on my blogs and share ur views...

thank you

Anonymous said...

Scott, would you elaborate on this phrase, "role of constitution in perception?" I expected you to say, "role of constitution and perception." I can see how the meaning can hold true either way, but in this case I am interested in how the concepts work together in your experience and in the context of this article.

Thank you.

Scott Anderson said...

In our YTT-200 program, we introduce participants to the rudiments of Ayurveda. With a baseline understanding of constitution, we find students developing healthier practices and becoming more effective teachers. When we observe the three doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, we often find different body-types, preferences, strengths and weaknesses. Among the variables is the inner perception of the body.

Some people are acutely aware of the inner functioning of their bodies, while other people may perceive only the deepest stretches or sweatiest vinyasa routines. While regular practice can open the doors to finer levels of inner awareness, very often the capacity to perceive is based to an unappreciated degree on one's constitution.

It's been described that the person with a preponderance of Vata constitution experiences the world as if their nervous system was very near the surface of their body, while the more Kapha/Pitta constitution experiences the world as mediated by their viscera or musculature.

As a teacher, I've found this to be a helpful observation to bear in mind. When I work with a more muscular body-type, very often the instructions to "move from the pelvic floor" or "shift the inner edge of the heel" falls on deaf ears. While these instructions may deliver the desired benefit for someone with a more Vata constitution, they leave the Kapha/Pitta person questioning their ability to learn yoga. Similarly, the sweaty vinyasa session that energizes this sturdier constitution and leaves them glowing with vitality, is often perceived by the more air-y constitution as being depleting.

Perhaps you've been in a restaurant with some friends, and one person requests to be re-seated due to a draft, a noise or some other sort of distraction. Within the group, there are often some that are in agreement, while others state "I don't hear/smell/feel what you're talking about."

These differences in perception are also present in yoga classes, and the optimum learning environment provides opportunities for all constitutions to catch a glimpse of Yoga.

Crystal Singing Bowls said...

I just found your blog. Great articles and well written. Thanks so much. Namaste!

Monalisha Biswal said...

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Monalisha Biswal said...

Inspiring writings and I greatly admired what you have to say , I hope you continue to provide new ideas for us all and greetings success always for you..Keep update more information..
Yoga teacher training in Goa