My education comes in many forms and I should probably be embarrassed by how much I have learned from television shows. But watching a show on Netflix called Brain Games recently I had a revelation about one of the more inexplicable patterns that I have witnessed in yoga students for as long as I can remember. The same revelation made me question my teaching style over the last ten years or so.
The inexplicable pattern happens in warrior two. There is a tendency for a student’s back arm to drift down towards the leg. In any given class about half of the room has an arm that doesn’t make it up above the shoulder.
Once pointed out some people respond and keep the arm up; some lift the arm and allow it to drift down soon after; and then there are those who never hear the instruction at all.
I’ve always watched this with fascination never quite understanding why it happened so regularly.
On one of the episodes of Brain Games—I am pretty certain the topic was illusions— they showed a video of someone holding some money and talking about the money he is holding.
Then they asked a question about clip we just watched—how many times did the scenery behind the person talking change? I thought none.
The answer was twenty. When they replayed the clip there was a ton of activity happening around the money but because I was told to watch the money it was the only thing I saw.
This is because the brain can actually only focus on one thing at a time.
And in warrior two I am telling students to look at the fingers of the forward facing arm which takes the brain away from the back arm.
This doesn’t explain why some people have no problem keeping both arms up at the same height— though I would think that has something to do with muscle memory and level of investment.
I am going to try an experiment with teaching the pose without turning the head over the front arm to see what happens to the back arm.
But the second part of the revelation concerns my teaching style which is to give about twenty instructions for any given pose. But if the brain can only focus on one thing I am probably wasting a whole lot of breath with most of my instructions.
The question then would be if a student actually picks one of the twenty to focus on or in truth hears none of them because they are too many?