There's an old joke that asks:
"How many therapists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"
"Just one, but the lightbulb has to want to change."
I'm not sure the same joke could be adapted for yoga teachers, but I hope it could. I want to guide my yoga students to a deeper understanding of how they want to change, open to the possibility that the only thing that needs to change is their point of view. One of the ideas that unites psychoanalysis and the yoga practice in my mind is a commitment to exploring the individual just as they are, without a fixed idea of how they should be. This is an important distinction because there are many external forces at work telling us all the ways we should be. These powerful messages coming from advertising and culture and social pressure are constantly shaping how we see ourselves. Of course, all of the signals telling us to be thinner, richer, stronger, more giving, more patient, less gullible, resonate because we feel these things lacking in ourselves.
It is a basic principle of advertising that to sell a product you would do well to create a feeling in the consumer that they are lacking something, and that your product can fill that need and make them whole again. This subtle form of aggression, telling someone that they are not good enough as they are, may be acceptable or even expected in advertising, but is incompatible with the kind of open exploration we undertake in yoga or in analysis. The essential questions in both models are "How are you feeling?" "What do you want?" and "How can you go about getting it?" These are deceptively challenging questions to answer because we do not always know how we are feeling or what we really want. It is much easier to identify how we should feel--after all, we're constantly being told to feel differently. Both the yoga mat and the therapists office are two places where we can focus less on how we should be feeling and put more attention on how we are feeling.
Returning to the premise of the old joke, the lightbulb comes to the therapist (or the yoga teacher) wanting to change. The therapist does not wander around telling lightbulbs that they're burnt out or that they should really be 100 watts instead of 60. This is not his job. If it was, then we would end up dependent rather than independent, As Irene Dowd put it in her classic Taking Root to Fly: Articles on Functional Anatomy, "...the work of a teacher is to give students the tools of knowledge and skills to help themselves change their own patterns of movement. The good teacher gives the student the ability to be self-responsible."