On better learning

By Dr. Ganesh Mohan

India recently released a landmark revision of education policy emphasizing flexibility and a multidisciplinary approach. There will doubtless be many challenges and questions, but it is a substantive development indeed.

Modern education has centered around standardization and measurements. Students cram for exams because everyone is gauged on their ability to answer the same questions and many suffer much mental distress because of their perceived lack on this unipolar scale. This was the school system that I attended in my early years (and all my friends from that time too), and it hasn’t changed all that much over many decades.

Physical movement, real-world interaction, and flexible thinking have been undervalued in modern education for a long time now. But based on how our bodies and minds have evolved, we are actually designed to learn in complex and integrated ways, as embodied, breathing, moving organisms with emotions and life stories.

Given more flexibility, children and young people are likely to figure things out better than we imagine. The world changes quickly, and humans will adapt better if they can cultivate the resilience needed. That resilience comes from whole mind-body skills, in a society and environment that is able to support genuine learning. Learning is not just memorizing information from a syllabus; it is the capacity to solve real-life problems and deepen understanding in the areas that one is interested in.

In the field of yoga education, there are a plethora of standards and organizations, hundreds of yoga “styles,” and thousands of yoga schools. Current yoga standards are consensus syllabi: lists of topics and hours, and yoga schools mostly decide what to teach, or not, under each topic.

How do you know whether someone is capable of teaching yoga effectively? How do you test whether someone can guide another to meditate, select and explain effective movement and breathing, or motivate to make lifestyle changes? Assessment is a complex challenge. It cannot be principally through written tests and documents, because we are looking for real-world skills that depend on teachers’ values, behavior, adaptability, empathy, self-awareness, and of course, the capacity to reason and think through the situation to apply what they learned. This was partly why, traditionally, becoming a teacher in these areas of self-transformation was a gradual transition earned through personal apprenticeship over time. Yet, such a traditional system also has its weaknesses.

A “best of both worlds” approach is ideal. A truly effective yoga program requires breadth and depth of traditional and modern knowledge, curation and structuring of content for relevance, a comprehensive map of learning progression, flexibility in learning pathways, self- and peer- assessment, long-term mentoring with ethical, informed, and wise teachers, emphasis on pragmatic and clinical skills, and more—a system that integrates all these and is open to improvement is the gold standard.