In my most recent class series at The Interdependence Project, we discussed learning frameworks and the qualities of being a good student — and you can’t teach without first/always being a student. The three stages of learning are called the prajnas — the methods for internalizing knowledge. The stages form a cycle because as students of yoga and Buddhism, we are always learning, always questioning, and always examining our behaviors and actions.
Listening (includes all media) is the intake of facts and information that leads to conceptual understanding. I can learn about yoga poses by listening to a teacher describe the alignment, by watching a YouTube video, and by reading books.
Contemplating is the act of testing out the concepts and theories in your own life in order to internalize the knowledge and form a unique point of view on the topic as it relates to your direct experience. The way a book describes a yoga pose will be different from how it feels in my body, which is also different from how it feels to you.
After knowledge is understood from a personal perspective, the teachings can seamlessly be put into the natural actions of everyday life. By practicing asanas (physical poses) and breathing techniques (pranayama) I know how these actions benefit myself (and others) and they are now part of my daily routine.
In the context of yoga and buddhist studies, a spiritual bypass is a defense mechanism to avoid direct experience, the rawness of vulnerability, and fear of change instead of accepting the insights, emotions, and growth potential. By hiding in the world of study — only reading, listening, consuming information — we avoid the Contemplation and Mediation phase because there is hard work involved and there is also a fear of challenging personal beliefs, habits, and world views.
In my non-yoga life, the design practice of prototyping is something that my team uses daily and I also teach the concept in design thinking workshops. Instead of talking about what might work, it’s better to conduct experiments to gather feedback, stress test ideas, poke holes in theories, and quickly move validated concepts into the next phase of development. By rapidly testing teachings on a small scale, the Contemplation and Meditation phases become less daunting.
I am approaching my Contemplation phase of learning with this same framework. By breaking concepts down into smaller pieces I can begin to incorporate them into my life in a manageable way that will help me to form my own point of view. One of the many things I love about yoga is that there is a foundational framework of physical postures and philosophy, but it’s really up to the practitioner, student, and teacher to interpret and apply them based on unique individual perspectives. I am working on setting up more teaching opportunities — hire me! ;) — so that I can continue to experiment with class formats, sequences, themes, and to observe myself and others in the process.
So where is all this going? This Svadhyaya Sessions blog is just one outlet for me to contemplate what I’ve learned in teacher training, my Buddhist studies, and my own practice. I invite you to share your questions and feedback in return to further the learning cycle.