October 16, 2014

The Truth about Teaching Yoga.

yoga teacher

My first yoga teacher was a soft-spoken Austrian man named Suddha—rhymes with Buddha.

There was no music in his class. This was a very good thing since no one would have been able to hear his wise but murmured words. There were no mirrors and very little light.

His classes felt like being in a yoga womb, safe and nurturing.

I was always in awe of Suddha and his ability to direct people with minimal effort. One day he lightly tapped the joint between my pointer finger and my thumb to flatten my hands in downward facing dog, his brilliance was in his attention to detail—much like the brilliance of an old-fashioned watchmaker.

That one tiny tweak changed my down dog forever.

Suddha and all of my subsequent teachers, the ones I’ve taken more than a handful of classes with, have come to occupy a mythical place in my mind.

The insight they have lavished on me over the years has often seemed liked the wisdom of the gods, when in fact, it is simply the wisdom of presence and experience.

When it was time for me to take my place at the head of a yoga class, I felt like an impostor.

I wasn’t wise!

At best, I was a reasonably functional yogi who really loved the practice. Nevertheless, there I was.

In the days, weeks, months and years that followed, I found my voice.

I let this idea guide me,

“We are all just walking each other home.” ~ Ram Dass

In other words, I assumed my students had as much to teach me as I had to teach them. I looked at each class as a collaboration and an open ended evolution. I knew the basic structure of each class, going in, but the end result of always surprised me.

Amazing things happened—both inspiring and frightening.

When one of my students collapsed from an, as yet undiagnosed, episode—which seemed like a panic attack—I had to stay right there in the moment with her, calm the rest of the students and deal with the aftermath of stress it created so that we could still make space for savasana.

When a one armed man showed up on the mat it became my job to think creatively and to release any preconceptions I had about what practice should look like, so I could guide him in his practice. I was in awe of his courage and humility—he set an example for me I have never forgotten.

When I taught at a senior center and the one person who came to class was a wheelchair-bound woman who fell asleep ten minutes into my routine. I was forced to decide how best to serve her.

I closed my eyes and sat quietly until the class was supposed to end and then gently woke her up. Upon awakening she seemed non-plussed and we sat and talked about a time in her life when she was a teacher. Not of yoga but of elementary school children, one of the most important jobs in the world.

Although I’ve loved teaching yoga, right from the beginning, it wasn’t until I had major back surgery and broke my arm, in quick succession, that I understood what it meant to me.

Faced with the prospect of not being physically able to teach anymore, I realized the true depth of the lessons I had begun learning. I knew that I wanted to continue. I fought hard to heal and retain the privilege of being in a spiritually rich position.

As everything does, if we allow it, my injuries taught me lessons too.

Now when students look at me, as if I have some secret wellspring of yogic knowledge, elevating me as I have elevated others to sage instead of person, I try to disabuse them of the notion.

They are the source of wisdom—their souls are the wellspring, their hearts hold the secrets.

The truth about teaching yoga is that there are no teachers, only students and we are all walking the path together, at our own pace.


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Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: wikipedia

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