I've done quite a bit of teacher training in my almost 6-years of teaching yoga. I did my first 200-hour teacher training, then went on to do another 300 hours to get my 500-hour certification, and since then, have taken multiple weekend-long trainings with various teachers, and lots of 5-6 hour trainings with others.
All of these trainings have been incredible and have opened my eyes and helped me grow immensely as a teacher, but at times, they've also confused me.
I'll be in a training with one skilled, senior teacher and learn something totally eye-opening about the elbows in downward facing dog. And then I'll be in a training with another teacher who totally knows her stuff, and learn something that contradicts what the other teacher said. And then I'll watch a YogaGlo video with an incredibly knowledgeable teacher and he'll say something that goes against what both of them said.
As a teacher and as someone who has been practicing for a while now, I'm able to take all of the contradicting messages and alignment cues, think about them, play with them in my own body, and then decide what I want to practice and teach to my own students.
However, for students who practice with multiple teachers, it doesn't always go this way. A student may have one teacher tell her to widen her hands to make more room for her shoulders. And then another teacher may tell her to bring her hands closer together, but angle them out a bit. And then yet another teacher will say to bring her wrists parallel to the top of her mat, which means remove that angle that the other teacher told her to work with.
What does that leave the student with? Total confusion, that's what.
And every pose can be like this. Different teachers from different schools of yoga (and even from the same schools of yoga but different training lineages) can teach TOTALLY different things--things way more drastic than the spacing of the hands or the bend in the elbows--and with so many conflicting cues, it can be really frustrating to try and understand what you should be doing and how to do it the "right" way.
But here's what I believe about yoga, or at least what I've come to believe in my years of training with so many different teachers: There's not a "right" way for every body. In fact, "right" for you might be totally wrong for the person next to you, and their "right" might feel bad in your body. Because yoga is not one-size-fits-all and it was never meant to be.
So what should the experienced yogi do with the conflicting cues and instructions that he or she may receive? Try each instruction in your body and pay attention to how it feels for you. If a slight bend in your front knee in triangle pose feels better or allows you to get into the pose in a deeper, more aligned, more supported way, then work with that version for a while and see how it goes. If a completely straight leg (or God forbid, a locked knee!) feels better, then play with that and notice what happens in your body when you practice that way for a while.
As long as you're being inquisitive, paying attention, and not taking any cue as the end-all-be-all, only way to do the pose forever and ever, then experimenting and getting to know your body in slightly different versions of a pose can be a great thing to do.
In fact, I think that it can sometimes be dangerous to just do every single thing that your teacher tells you to do in exactly the way that she tells you to do it, because you may have physical limitations that don't allow you to come into a pose in exactly the way instructed.
Does that make sense to you? I hope so. I think it's something important to learn, because it gets tiring saying, "Well, my other teacher told me to do it this way..." or "I thought this was the right way?" all the time. I think there's actually something liberating in not having a right way, and instead, having a chance to take it all in and process the information in a way that works for your physical structure.
What do you think?
And a note to my fellow teachers: if you tell a student to do something and they say that another teacher told them to do it a different way, that's a perfect chance to both explain why you feel the way you do about the pose and empower your student to learn the pose in her body and make up her own mind.
Never stop learning, yogis! Your body has so much to teach you.