I've been thinking a lot about how to be a better yoga teacher. I think about what I was like as a new yoga student. My first exposure to yoga was as a dancer. All I really remember is that I fell asleep during savasana, and the teacher had to wake me up at the end of class. I was in my teens and didn't really understand anything about yoga. Yoga is so much more than just a physical practice so I can understand why it may not be all that interesting to a 15 year old. I started taking a regular yoga class in my early twenties; I was newly sober, and taking dance classes again. I remember really liking the meditation part but after a close friend died suddenly, I quit taking dance/yoga. I didn't take another class again until I was in my late twenties, and I was at the height of a major struggle with body image and eating. I was restricting my food, I was doing crossfit and I somehow stumbled into a Hot Yoga class. I loved it because it felt so good to stretch all those stressed out muscles, plus I sweat, A LOT, which made me feel like I was getting skinnier and skinnier. Although all of my reasons for doing it were wrong, and the antithesis of yoga philosophy, it was the beginning of some major growth in my life. Hot yoga was my main focus while I battled out my eating issues, started therapy, and started a meditation practice. When I was introduced to Hatha Yoga, not heated, just a regular ol' yoga class, I think I was finally ready to take a step back. I was coming close to the end of my crossfit days. I was tired of feeling like I had to compete with everyone and everything (my job was super competitive as well). I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and that beginner level yoga class was a breath of fresh air. I didn't have any expectations to live up to, I could just, sit there and stretch. It was such a relief. I still like hot yoga, but the challenge I find is that I return to that competitive, hard charging athlete who is constantly comparing herself to the others. That's not hot yoga's fault, that's my own, and so I find that the best place for me is not there. I would push myself into poses and quite often, would find myself feeling tired and possibly hurt, not relieved. If a teacher offered up a pose that was new to me, I tried it. I was NOT going to not push myself to my limits because I mean, if we're not trying as hard as possible, we're not good enough, right? If I was tired, I kept going because there's no crying in baseball. I am so grateful that I'm not in that space anymore, but I am also grateful that I was once there. It helps me understand where some of my students might be coming from, especially some of the beginner's who have athletic backgrounds.
I say all of that, I realize I can be long winded, to come to this point; I have learned the balance between when I feel I can push myself physically and when I need to sit my butt in child's pose. And I listen to my body. And I don't feel bad about it. I know a lot of that comes with experience because once one feels more confident in what one is doing, one doesn't feel the need to impress, but for a perfectionist who takes pride in "accomplishing things", finding that balance has been a major key to my happiness. A yoga class is such a metaphor for life, but that's a whole other blog post.
What the heck does any of this have to do with teaching? My point is that in remembering what it was like to be a student, I hope that I can be a better teacher. I went through a period where I only wanted very basic yoga classes, and I needed that because I learned how to breathe, and I learned to allow myself to relax. In 2010 (I think), I found Karen Noonan at Yoganize and came back to those hard classes. Yoganize was the coolest place because there was a friendly community of supportive people and the classes were hard! I was always challenged but never felt competitive. Karen Noonan is one of the most special teachers I have ever had and I miss her so much. She inspired me in so many ways and I am forever grateful to have done my teacher training with her. Because of her, I figured out what type of class I wanted to teach. I teach a class that is
- Safe (I hope and pray)
- Breath Centered
- Consistent enough that people can possibly start a home practice
- but varied enough that the student is actually getting something from coming to me
Honestly, those are really hard things to incorporate in each class. I teach a lot of all levels classes but I prefer to teach classes that are specialized, meaning a beginner's class or a level II/III class. The only reason I like those better is because it's easier to find balance. If the variation between the most experienced person to the least experienced person is really high, it can be challenging to meet somewhere in the middle. But I do it! What I try to do is tune into each class. I ask how my students are feeling and say a little prayer just asking that I be a channel of whatever needs to be said/done in this specific class today. I use a basic format, sun sals, balance, stretch and an inversion in each class so that I can come from an intuitive place in every other aspect. I also practice that way so I can get used to being "intuitive". Through all of that, I hope that I am a value to my students.
To my students, and to my readers, what I will say is that my challenge to you is to learn to listen to yourself and know your limits. If you're feeling extra inspired and you can do twenty Sun Sals, go for it! If you're tired and feeling drained, modify everything. Your class is the one place where you can just do what you want. If you want to just hang in child's pose all class, go for it. I'm always going to honor you and so you should honor yourself.