Cultivating Productive Uncertainty: Gillian Evans

As part of my Triyoga Advanced Teacher Training last weekend, Gillian Evans did a talk about what she calls "cultivating productive uncertainty" as yoga teachers.  It took me a while to wrap my mind around this idea as I tend to associate uncertainty with negative connotations.  Yet looking at uncertainty as being open to other ways of doing things makes a lot of sense.  Particularly in a yoga setting.  First, we discussed what it means to teach yoga in the context modern western society.  We pondered what cultural values underpin learning in our culture and what is taken for granted.  So much of modern yoga is relayed with such certainty, it leaves little room for uncertainty and deeper enquiry.  

 What does it mean to cultivate 'productive uncertainty?'  Gillian suggests inviting students to explore a point of enquiry rather than telling how it is.  I find this is important in my teaching and in my practice because it changes so much over time.  There is no one thing that defines yoga or fully relays its affects.  Yet exploring distinct elements overtime allows space for discovery, with variables that are constantly changing.  Gillian has a beautiful way of embodying this 'productive uncertainty' as she presents her enquiries.  Not only is she well spoken and clear on what she is proposing, she offers up her questions from a global perspective, with the ability to pan out and see the larger consequences of what we create as a yoga culture.  Gillian explains how the yogic concept of the 'self' is specific and unique.  She argues that yoga in the context of western modern society is proposing yoga as a way to know the self on a deeper level, yet this concept might be completely foreign to someone from say, the Massai in southern Kenya.  "Could you easily explain how yoga is a form of self- enquiry to someone who has never heard of it?" she asks us. This question really struck me, as I have a difficult time explaining yoga concisely to people at my local gym who have never tried it! 

Develop self- consciousness 

Become aware of what you are telling your students.  Gillian explains " You are embodying what you believe and whether or not you think so, you are in a way telling students what to believe."  This is why it is important to become clear on what you stand for and how you present it to students.  The role of teacher is comes with a great responsibility to empower students and  facilitate space for self-enquiry. 

Invite others to explore your point of enquiry

Rather than using your beliefs as a statement of fact,  allow there to be a productive uncertainty in what you propose.  Allow questions, explore other perspectives and open your mind to other ways of seeing a given situation or practice.  Just as you invite your students to explore an idea, continue to explore yourself as you refine what it is you are asking.  See your practice as unending experiment, offering a way to experience the world with increased awareness. 

Own and be clear on what it is you stand for

What you stand for may change over time.  As you become more clear on what it is you stand for, make sure you maintain an openness to include space for other ways of doing things and other perspectives.  It is often when we open up to other ways of seeing things that we become more clear on what it is we believe.  

What 'world' are you creating in your classes?

As Gillian explains, humans are the outcome of regularly occuring situations, meaning that when we surround ourselves with like-minded people, we become a community of people who believe the same things as 'normal.'  Yet if we look at the elements of a 'usual' yoga setting, when we unroll our mats, we are unrolling an entire world.  What are the things taken for granted in this world? Who is being excluded from this world? Do our classes represent different bodies, classes and races?  Become more aware of the world you build on and off the mat.  Does it represent what you stand for?

I don't have the answers.  But I am grateful to Gillian for offering these questions as we make our way as yoga teachers in this world.

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All you can do is stand for your particular point of enquiry.
— Gillian Evans
Rachel Ward1 Comment