Thoughts on Teaching Yoga (cont'd)

Thoughts on Teaching Yoga  |  Photo credit:  Shelby Eaton

Thoughts on Teaching Yoga  |  Photo credit: Shelby Eaton

I consider myself new to teaching yoga.  It is something I hope to continue doing for the rest of my life and I look forward to having the opportunity over years and decades to refine my craft.  I don't believe I will ever arrive at a place where I would be willing to approach teaching from a place of "I know."  Yoga is not static, it is experiential and experimental, always evolving, and this is what makes it so exciting to me both as a practitioner and a teacher.

Describing his creative process, Mikhail Baryshnikov talks about having a hunger to stay on the edge of uncertainty which he refers to as a place of "divine insecurity” (source: Donna Farhi).  This phrase speaks to me at a visceral level.  Right now I am having a lot of fun experimenting with creative class formats that embrace inquiry-based learning and the power of the group to facilitate fresh discovery.  I say "fun" but what I really mean is terrifying because of course it is terrifying to stand in front of a group of people who have spent their hard-earned money to come and learn from you and to tell them that in fact you do not have the answers.

For the first three years that I was a yoga instructor, I followed the "Simon Says" model of teaching, memorizing and repeating word for word as best I could the instructions I heard from the teachers who are beloved to me, trying on their sequences and adapting them as I saw fit.  I have no regrets.  It was part of my process.  And I suppose, in a way, it was natural since almost all of the previous learning I had done in my life had been largely verbal.  The game changer for me was when I allowed myself to fall madly and deeply in love with my own practice, to drop out of language and into the right hemisphere of my brain.  This is where the deeper teachings of yoga came to life for me.  Love, Energy, Interconnectedness, Playfulness, Innocence, Mercy, Joy, God... all of these became embodied experiences.  Any training or methodology are now in service to the possibility of those kinds of moments in others which require being me as deeply present with whomever is actually in front of me as it does being present with myself, my body and my breath when I am balancing on my hands.

Donna Farhi emphasizes the importance of safety in the learning environment.  When training teachers, she asks them "When have you felt fearful in a learning environment and why?" Farhi suggests that radical humility on the part of the teacher plays a big part in creating a safe environment in which effective learning can take place.  If I am teaching asana then at the most obvious level this refers to my responsibility to present the practice in way that is healing rather than harmful and to do my utmost never to cause or aggravate injury.  And this is where I think it is so important for me as a new teacher to never stop learning, to continue to receive supervision, and to stay open to new information as it becomes available.  But safety extends beyond just the physical.  It means creating a space in which the individuals who come to my classes feel psychologically and spiritually safe as well.  Believing that there is one way of doing things, or that there is a right way and a wrong way negates curiosity, diminishes sensitivity and is an obstacle to compassion.  I want everybody to have the freedom to arrive at their own conclusions, to outgrow what I have to offer quickly and to "be a light unto themselves."  The best and most impactful teachers I've had do a lot more bearing witness than imparting wisdom.

I want to take a moment to thank the incredible teachers in my life, and most especially all of you who are accompanying me today in the ongoing adventure of learning and growing.  I feel so blessed.