FROM IMITATION TO INNOVATION | Body of Knowledge™ Blog

When I was a 200hr trainee, my trainers taught me that on the path to learning to teach, there are three stages: imitation, integration, and innovation.

Imitation

Yoga teachers learn to teach in the beginning mostly by imitating their teachers and following ‘the rules’ of the method. This makes sense. According to pedagogical scholars, the apprenticeship model is one of the best ways to learn.

As a 200hr trainee, I remember keeping a ‘cue dictionary’ of my favorite ways my teachers cued actions or movements in the poses. I memorized cues form my dictionary to repeat to my own students. It worked. I amassed a rather large and sophisticated teaching lexicon early on in my yoga teaching career. I learned the language of teaching yoga the way that small children learn to speak – by repeating (almost word for word sometimes) what my teachers communicated to me. Like learning the language of teaching yoga, new teachers learn techniques by imitation, often before they fully understand the theory behind what they’re imitating. Ideally, while this is happening, new teachers are reminded that it is always their responsibility to question what they are learning and to know that their teachers are fallible. Unfortunately, depending on the program or teacher, this is not always the case. Depending on the nature of their training, some teachers never move beyond this stage of imitation.

Integration

In the next stage, the teacher starts to understand the why of what they are teaching. This is the integration stage. After a few years of study with various teachers or different styles, yoga teachers may begin to question and integrate these different approaches. They may develop a more complete understanding of the guiding principles, or underlying theories. More experienced teachers start to make connections between seemingly different approaches. They begin to understand how these approaches are, perhaps, not so dissimilar or how they might even be complimentary. They may start to think critically about the limitations of each approach, and they may begin to understand how incorporating the techniques of multiple approaches is necessary to make their offerings more complete.

Innovation

Finally, many teachers may find themselves growing more curious about ways to expand their offerings. They may have already invested in several continuing education programs and established for themselves a niche skill or ability. It’s during this time that many yoga teachers begin to innovate their own styles or approaches by organically integrating the influence of a variety of sources. After absorbing to the bone the information they’ve been given, they begin to pass it on with their own twist, sharing less the information they learned, and more, pieces of themselves that have been shaped by and fully integrated into their work. The information they’ve absorbed has changed them, while they too have changed the subject matter and lent it new meaning.

By the way, you never leave the stage of imitation or integration, even in the stage of innovation. These stages are not linear, necessarily, but rather, simultaneously inform each other.

One innovation that I’ve personally been working on is to find ways to bridge the gap between modern postural yoga – the poses traditionally associated with yoga – so that they makes sense for modern bodies. We’re learning that we need more than just passive stretching which is a type of stretching explored extensively in modern postural yoga. Additionally, many students aren’t ready for the large ranges of motion that modern postural yoga requires. This, and, many students only do yoga asana and would benefit from adding external load to their movement practice to facilitate adaptations that lead to more stable, balanced, and ultimately, healthier joint function. My desire to innovate was mostly in pursuit of solving these problems, both for myself and my students who’ve suffered from pain, injury or maybe just clicking joints – sometimes an early warning of latent instability. (See note on clicking joints below!) 

In the yoga space, we don’t have access to the equipment we have access to in a gym, like free weights. This is why I love incorporating resistance bands into the practice. They are easy to carry from class to class and they are relatively affordable. Here is a little preview of my latest project Yoga with Resistance Bands. Want this in your inbox? Sign up here.

Here is an example of how I took a ‘classic’ yoga pose and infused it with some dynamic movement while adding external load from the resistance band.

What has innovation meant to me?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself innovating more. My career has exploded with my own unique offerings, like Body of Knowledge™, my anatomy and biomechanics workshop series, and interdisciplinary movement workshops. As such, I’ve reflected often on this idea of innovation, what a movement innovator is, and what the characteristics of meaningful movement innovation are. Here are some of what I feel are the most defining characteristics of movement innovation, as well as the questions I had to ask myself as I transitioned more toward this mindset and approach:

Meaningful innovation solves a problem.

Key questions:

  • What do I need?
  • What do my students need?
  • Is the way I’m currently practicing and teaching meeting those needs?
  • If not, what can I change about how I practice and teach so that it does?

Meaningful innovation often challenges the adherence to conventional rules and norms.

Key questions:

  • What are the traditional conventions of how yoga is practiced that may be getting in my way or my students’ way toward making the kind of personal growth we seek?
  • Am I willing to change these traditional conventions in the classes I teach?
  • How will I contextualize my choices so that my community is interested in exploring them with me?
  • Am I willing to move on to other communities if my choices don’t align with the studio’s culture or the preferences of my students?

Meaningful innovation takes a risk.

Key questions:

  • Does sharing this innovation scare me a little?
  • Does it address a problem that people are afraid to talk about or does it expose a gap in understanding that many have not explored yet?
  • Have I thought enough about why I’m doing what I’m doing to be able to speak from my heart about my choices and to be able to make them with enthusiasm, bravery and authenticity?

I’m sharing this in case learning a bit about my process helps you navigate your own, no matter the stage you’re in. I hope that you find value in what I have to share with you. I’m curious, what stage of your teaching are you in? Leave a comment below!

NOTE: If you have clicking joints, know that there are so many reasons joints click. Don’t be alarmed. It couldn’t hurt to get a little stronger, though. If you have pain associated with your clicking joints, you may want to go see a physical therapist who can help you determine the cause and best course of treatment. If you are in the NYC or Los Angeles area, I’m happy to refer you to some excellent PTs.

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