January 24, 2013

Yoga Teacher Cluetrain: Ten Cars Long.

I’m smaller than a poppy seed inside a great big bowl. ~ Kimya Dawson

On the day he left his body, a nameless sage told Swami Rama, “Be who you are. Don’t ever pretend to be something different than who you are.”

I want to bring yoga students a loving, interesting fellow student. Someone like them, exploring and having fun with this thing called yoga. Yeah, a well-informed student, one who has studied and can lead, but preferably, in a genuine, bullshit-free environment. Pretense is for models, and the soapbox is for the laundry.

As yoga teachers, avoiding the temptation to claim what is not given is a starting point. Not to pretend to be anything other than a peer, and a fellow traveler, seems obvious.

One of the best things I heard from a yoga teacher was: “We two are just at the beginning.”  After I heard that, I was safe, on a path, with a friend. Well, okay, I was before I heard that too, but you know what I mean.

The willingness to grow is the essence of all spiritual development. ~ Bill Wilson

When I’m blessed with a teacher who has humility, I’m so relieved, as a student. I mean, what are we providing, in the end?

My friend Jimmy, on work as a yoga teacher: “How wonderful! You help people get off their hamster wheels for an hour.”

Yoga teachers provide relief. That’s something to do: to create sanctuary. Plant life in the studio, some image of any guru who is not me, and music chosen to serve the student are starting points. Sanctuary grows from this commitment, from choices to serve a need we share: the need for any oasis. Hamster wheel liberation.

A safe place for students to explore provides freedom. When students feel protected, self-definition can become attractive. If I’ve always known myself as greedy, in a very safe place on my mat, I can look at my greedy nature and ask: “Does this serve me?” The hamster wheel is always available for remounting.  Helping people reveal previously invisible ontological options works.

Serving humanity is the expression of love for God. ~ Swami Rama, “Living With the Himalayan Masters”

The poet Hafiz said something like “Everyone you meet, everywhere, is always asking ‘Do you love me?’ What do you think you should tell them?”  People need love. Badly. If being a yoga teacher allows us windows to becoming a more effective source of love, then yoga is perfect.

Loving students is bringing them tokens of the freedom to be warm and content with themselves and our community.

Affection is an invitation, welcoming everyone to enjoy their practice fully, to feel accepted, and contributed to. Disarming competitive thought habits helps. Teaching that in unifying mind and breath, practice as perfect, keeps time on the mat grounded in acceptance, which can benefit every bit as much as challenge. Teaching yoga as an expression of appreciation for the body, as is, right now—nothing to change or fix—reinforces self love.

From where I’m standing, the path exploring this further involves meditation and deliberate cultivation. There are myriad ways of being a source of love, which reveal themselves when looked for.

Why wait any longer for the world to begin? ~ Bob Dylan

Having set a tone of acceptance, one teaching tool is keeping lessons just past what people think they want to learn, and with their help, pushing the boundaries back to include more. I’m after an invitation and safe challenge to students. Encouraging with equanimity, kindness, and connectedness lets them choose to want a little intelligent progress.

If people practice meditation or vegetarianism from our work together on the mat, I’m really happy with that. If they simply get more fit and enjoy a challenging hour that contributes to their growth and fitness, I content myself with that, while continuing to constitute myself as an invitation. I need to know that progress in yoga need not appear in forms pre-approved by me.

I want students to know that they are complete and whole in my eyes. They are enough. Our time together is a source of contentment for me.  If I can be a reminder to them that they are accepted right now, my teaching works invisibly and effectively. How it shows up in their lives is anyone’s guess. The only barometer in the studio is do they return.

Ninety-nine percent practice, one percent theory. ~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

I shoot (sometimes wildly) for bringing a real practice to my teaching. When teachers begin and end classes on time, look presentable, and prepare, then respect—foundational to teaching and learning—is present. Leaving room for error, I still never want to allow carelessness to be part of my approach.

It was once pointed out to me that when mat practice is fully established, you can flip the Jois quote, and let your asanas inform your life. Mat practice becomes the 1 percent theory, which one then brings to practice in the world outside of the studio. I love that.

I am a child. ~ Neil Young

Cynicism, edginess and world-weariness are available to us anytime, but we’re rarely presented with an invitation to innocence. I want to bring purity to my work as a teacher, which hopefully allows students to take their wide-open selves out for a class. So much in our culture pulls us toward guardedness. Bringing a measure of purity to the studio can encourage people to affirm their childlike nature, and drop their guards.

Having said that, my purity comes in its own, very impure state. So maybe it is a purity of intent, or a purity of hope. I’m fuzzier on the whole purity bailiwick, clearer on the invitation to innocence. Maybe I am talking about a temporary place of purity, a place where teacher and student are safe to explore what it might be like to be pure, for an hour.

The Moon and the Stars, are the gifts you gave. ~ Tek One

I want to bring deep gratitude to my work as a teacher. Without being all goddish or preachy. And I don’t always get this one more than 22 percent. But it’s always there, in some measure. Actions speaking loudest, I plan to simply pray and meditate in silence before teaching. On and off the mat, in and out of class, bowing silently and often, I work to create an environment of simple appreciation.

An important part of teaching spirituality is to never make any claim to be teaching it. My favorite example of this is the subtitle to Pandit Tigunait’s book, Touched By Fire. The subtitle is “The Ongoing Journey of a Spiritual Seeker.” That’s a mindset I can learn from. Please don’t ever talk to me from having arrived. I’ll puke on your shoes, I swear it.

I do not plan to pose as any kind of guru or spiritual guide, and do not expect to talk any talk about devotion or love of God unless it’s straightforward and from my experience, or I’m quoting one of my teachers. When quoting, I want to give merit and credit without hesitation.

Part of my personal journey in yoga is to come into further partnership, laughter, and shared love with life. I want to invite students to see if the same goal is for them, and to invite primarily without using words.

         Remember, the most important teacher is within your heart. ~ Sri Dharma Mittra

The most interesting teachers are invariably active students themselves. When a teacher reports back to their class what they are discovering in their own, a quote from something they are reading this week, the attention sharpens. Reflection on current study of the subject validates everyone in the room.

I want to bring my students an examined life. The teaching is as deep as the teacher. A continued inquiry into life qualifies us further to lead others in yoga. Who am I to ask you to bow your head to your greater self if I am failing to bow silently, alone on my own mat? I want to be on a continued path of self-discovery, for the benefit of my life and to serve my teaching. “Faking it” as a yoga teacher would bring me great sadness.

And in those times when I’ve completely entered a slump, and notice that teaching is the only time I’m practicing, I open up, and allow the classes to bring me back to my practice. Because yeah, I stray. Wide and far. If there’s any good to discover in my very real bouts of yogapathy, it is the ability to relate unquestioningly when students have the same block.

Nothing Lasts for Long. ~Joni Mitchell

I want to bring perspective to classes. Teaching yoga poses a danger, that of taking yourself too seriously. I want permission to make a thousand mistakes, and laugh at them. This will in turn allow my students the same freedom.

I was told that asanas, even combined with teaching, are only a small part of one’s yoga practice. I want to remember that, and always be willing to let go. If a certain sage I know is to be believed, “a brain is a brain,” and most yoga lessons are best served with a smile.

         No need to travel to India people, there is India inside of us. ~ Ellen de Jonge

There is very much in what we do. Yoga is so not small. We traffic in the endlessness of asanas, and the inexplicable well-being they create. This well-being flows both ways when we bring students a platform in our head from which they can instruct us. Learning from students fosters gratitude in me. Gratitude to the unseen syncopations of grace which led to my mat informs the choice to teach. My prayer is that yoga teaching gives students consistent, solid reasons to be grateful, and that they in turn shower life with gratitude’s uncountable forms.

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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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