I am on my way home from an awesome weekend at Maha Yoga in Philadelphia, PN. Justicia and Shawn DeClue are the owners of the studio and were great hosts and wonderful, inspiring and FUN company. The weekend was just awesome. We really had so much fun in the workshop and in our time outside the workshop. This was my second time back to Philly and so it was fun to see some people this year who were in my workshop last year and to meet some new folks as well. Almost everyone who came came to every session so we had a very deep and intimate experience. Here are a few scenes to enjoy:
I thought a lot over the weekend about what the difference are between workshops, classes, group practices, webinars and personal practice. I don't know how it is for other teachers or what students expect when they go to a workshop vs. a public class, but I know for me that when I go teach a workshop, it is a very unique experience. Because I do not have the continuity and familiarity that comes with ongoing weekly classes, I do not often push the boundaries of risky poses in workshops. I don't push for major "peak experiences" or for huge breakthroughs as much as I go for an education approach and download information that, if the participants apply to their practice over a year, will hopefully yield some tremendous growth. I mostly try to go deeper into the postures that help unlock the advanced poses, attempt to clarify alignment in familiar postures and to introduce new approaches to poses that uncover hidden tightness, weakness or confusion.
On one level workshops have the luxury of time because we have long classes and 12-15 hours together in a sustained chunk of time. But in another way, we only have 12-15 hours in which to establish a working context, to start to trust one another, to get to work on the poses, to explore the teachings and to open up a door to new possibilities of performance, understanding, intimacy and so on. In one way we have more time than usual and in other ways, we have less.
And in a 90-minute class I do my best to sequnce the lesson around 1 or 2 main points but in a 12-15 hour wekend, I am weaving many threads at a time and my style is less linear than how I teach a public class and than how I train people to teach public classes. When I lead a practice, I am generally trying to move everyone through a sequence and my focus is more narrow and specific than it is with a brand new group over the whole course of a weekend.
I have always suffered these disparities a lot knowing how many public class teachers come to public workshops with a teacher training or teacher observation mindset and will often unconsciously assume how I teach one is how I teach the other. While there are similarities, there are also a lot of differences between how I teach a group of people I know very well for 90 minutes every week and how I teach a room of strangers for 3 hours. And since I care a lot about helping teachers and supporting yoga teachers in and through my work, this potential point of confusion always worries me.
Recently, however, I was at a workshop with John Schumaker and he said to the room of nearly all yoga teachers, "Look, I know how we train you. I know it is considered good teaching to take one or two points of alignment and thread them through and entire class and connect them sequentially to each and every pose so that your intellect understands the connections and it is all neat and tidy. I know that is how we say to do and I do think that is a great way to teach. HOWEVER, be very clear that I am not teaching you that way and I know that I am not. I want you to put your intellect down and get your body matched up with my words and just follow what I am saying from your body, not your mind."
I felt so relieved to hear a teacher of his experience and caliber acknowledge my own dilemma and just say, "I know in teacher training and assessment we teach one thing and while teaching that way is a good way to teach yoga it is not the ONLY good way to teach yoga." I felt so vindicated and freed up as a result. And his teaching was great and so effective for what he was there to do which was to teach and intermediate/advanced asana intensive to experienced Iyengar Yoga students. Had that weekend been the asana portion of a teacher training weekend, well, I would bet a lot of money he would have been modeling his linking skills, his active commands and so on.
Anyway, the weekend was a lot of fun, a major download of techniques, in-depth musings on alignment principles, a lot of work with the forms of the yoga poses high on the agenda and just a ton of laughter and silliness. Don't teach like that in in your public classes, but, well, expect it all in a workshop!
Kelly stayed an extra day to hang out and explore the city where we enjoyed lots of great food, museums and wonderful conversations with the great people of Philly.
I have had a great week at home this week. I launched my Online Teacher Training Program on Tuesday which I am really excited about. We have an awesome group of teachers from across the world and with a varied level of experience. We spent the first session talking a lot about Big Picture stuff- the Aim and Overview of the program but also the Aim and Overview of our relationship to teaching yoga. For me the first session is generally about context and "rules of engagement" and in terms of this training I wanted to establish that there is no one way to teach yoga well and that each person has to make the teachings I present throughout the course relevant and applicable to their unique situation, which includes their temperament and personality. What might work well for one person might not work for another and what works in one situation might not translate to a different teaching environment so we have to be fluid. I also continue to be passionate about these courses being collegial learning communities where we have the freedom to ask question, differ in our opinions and share our varied perspectives so that we can learn from the shared wisdom of each other. All in all, it was a good first session, I think.
Wednesday I taught my Asana Junkies Webinar which is one of my new favorite things these days. We have two components- well, maybe three. We have the webinar, we have our group practice and we have the online forum. And some folks are practicing alone where they are and some folks have started groups in their own area. At any rate, the whole thing is really inspiring and fun for me. I love having time on the webinar to "talk yoga" and to answer questions and give larger teachings and to explore ideas. I love having the practice where we are on our mats, sweating and working and laughing together. And I love the online forum because it has been a very sophisticated level of discussion and sharing that is also focused on the practices we are sharing and working on in our respective locations. The whole thing has me feeling very connected to a family of practitioners both globally and locally, thinking about my practice deeply and clarifying my thoughts on postures so I can explain them better and better. I just love it. All parts of it. So fun.
I also love that the practice time at BFree is full of very keen, hard-working practitioners who like to learn. There is a very nice balance of what I call athletes and engineers. (Yoga athletes like to move, sweat and practice hard stuff. Yoga engineers like to learn, enjoy the "how to" and are interested in mechanics. And there are the mystics who like to consider the spiritual domain and the psychologists who like to bring it back home to our personal lives. All of which are good and great doorways into practice, right? All I am saying is that this particular practice group has athlete-engineer written all over it!) Here is a scene from yesterday.
I have been using this mantra as an invocation lately and I really like it. The mantra is a traditional verse recited between teacher and students before embarking on study together. Roughly the prayer means.....
Let us together (-saha) be protected (-na vavatu) and let us together be nourished (bhunaktu) by God’s blessings. May we work together with great energy and strength (-viryam) for the benefit of humanity. (karavaavahai) May our study be luminous (tejasvi) filled with joy and endowed with the force of Purpose (vadhita mastu). Let us never (-maa) be poisoned (-vishaa) with the seeds of hatred for anyone.
Let there be Peace in me. Let there be Peace in my environment. Let there be Peace in the forces that act on me.
I love this chant for a lot of reasons.
First and foremost,t the chant speaks to the heart of what I think of as the possibility of enlightened community. I believe that when we join together with a shared aim and a common intention- like studying yoga, for instance- we have the opportunity to engage a transformational circumstance. There is no guarantee, of course, that a group will become a community and that a community will transform its members, but I do believe that we have an opportunity to engage the process of being together as a profound experiment in growth and change.
I love that the chant reminds us to ask for protection, for blessings, nourishment, strength and a sense of deep purpose; all things that we need in study, in community and in the process of transformation and awakening.
And given that I am both a realist and an idealist when it comes to community, I really love that the chant asks that we never be poisoned by the seeds of hatred for anyone, particularly one another, teacher and student who are engaging the teachings together. I find it so refreshing that all those years ago, all the way back to the Upanishads, there was an acknowledgement of the difficulties involved in "sitting down near one another." (The word Upanishad, after all, means to "sit down near" and they are a group of teachings that were first given orally and then written down and compiled.) And so all the way back to the early teachings of yoga, teachers and students engaged an intimate process together in which they sat down near one another, sat down near themselves, and sat down near the teachings. And here is the great thing- they acknowledged it was a bit of a dicey proposition, fraught with potential problems and pitfalls.
And so they prayed.
And since the process of teaching and learning, of being a teacher and being a student is ultimately about our own relationship with ourselves and our lives and the way we learn to live inside our own wisdom and learn from our own experience, I think its also important that we apply this prayer to ourselves so that seeds of self- hatred do not arise as we sit down near ourselves in the work of studying yoga. So often I see well-meaning, sincere and ardent seekers learn about yoga, inevitably fall short of its very high aims and start to beat themselves up about it.
Having a high aim can be inspiring and can guide the larger spheres of our lives but also, we have to remember that these tools are not given to us to fan the flames of our own self-criticsm and self-hatred. Yoga is a teaching of love, compassion for self and others and can give us amazing tools and technology for understanding ourselves better if we use it in that spirit. And if we use it negatively it will always give us more information abut what we can't do yet, how un-evolved we are and how we don' quite meet the mark. (maybe type-A people shouldn't do yoga after all!)
So to me this chant is both about the relationships of our outer community we form as we study but also about our inner relationship with ourselves.
Here I am teaching the invocation in Austin at our Asana Junkies Group Practice. Enjoy and sing along!
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."