There are roles that both the yoga instructor and student fulfill. For the instructor, they are to provide a sequence that is within the student’s ability, yet allows them to work to their edge, including offering a variety of ways to approach the pose. They will develop, once they’ve taught enough students, the ability to read energy and know when a student isn’t working to their fullest potential or when a student may be in trouble (fainting, etc.).
Where I practice, my teacher’s role is to “push” me physically and mentally. She also observes and corrects posture to limit injuries. My role is to know where my edge is and remain on the breathable side of it. Because the mat is a place to practice what yoga really is, “The stilling of the fluctuations of the mind” (so we don’t follow every thought the mind churns out and get so wrapped up in its stories that we miss the peace that already resides within us at this moment), she reminds me that difficult poses are my opportunity to observe my thoughts about the pose, my body, her, the room temperature, life, etc. I can choose to “still” those thoughts so it’s only my body, the pose as I can perform it, and anything else the mind spits out is just, “Oh, so there’s that. So what? Now what? Where’s my breath?”
My role as a yoga student continues off the mat. I can take that practice and apply it to traffic, when I don’t get a client, when a friend is ill. Some days I’m pretty far from that peace, but there are moments when I’m grateful for my practice.