I am heading back to Colorado, after almost two weeks teaching in San Marcos, Texas. As so often happens after an intensive at the San Marcos School of Yoga, I am tired, inspired and grateful. On the final day of the ten-day teaching streak, two of our Alchemy of Flow and Form students graduated. I told the group that I was brought up in the yogic guru paradigm and feel like, for all of its problems and pitfalls, I benefitted from the structure. I am grateful for the education I received; however, I do not want to serve my students according to that paradigm.
When I resigned my license to teach Anusara yoga and looked at an open road of Possibility, I knew I did not want to reside at the top of a pyramid in such a way that implied I had all the answers, that I had some awakening, some special knowledge, or even some new insight about yoga. Plenty of people I know personally are more studied in philosophy, more accomplished in asana, and spend a whole lot more time meditating than me. I didn't feel like I had some new take on yoga or could offer a unique iteration on the tradition that I could honestly sell to others as a thing. And believe me, I had more than a few "what's your mission, vision, etc." types of sessions with more than a few experts along the way.
Ninety percent of what I teach in terms of asana I learned from my my Iyengar yoga teachers, Manouso Manos, Patricia Walden, Laurie Blakeney, George Purvis and John Schumacher. Not one class goes by that I am not drawing on the wealth of information and insight I got from John Friend. I stand solidly on the shoulders of the great and ever-creative Desiree Rumbaugh, who I consider my Big Sister in Yoga, and the quirky, yet always on-the-money perspectives of my gurubai and long-time teaching partner, Darren Rhodes. My sister, Anne Schultz, and I have spent more hours than I can count hashing over sequences, techniques and teachings from our studies and practice together, and my friend Gioconda Parker and I have explored both the meeting points between vinyasa and form-based practice as well as their points of divergence. I consider myself fortunate to have spent time with the exemplar Afton Carraway, Kathy Durham, Gianna Purcell and Mardy Chen whose clarity, expertise and passion for teaching and practice stand as ongoing, shining examples of what is possible in and through Bikram yoga's often-times difficult and misunderstood points of entry. In short, very little of what I teach is my own. (In fact, ten percent may be a generous estimation of things I teach that I have actually made up.
I love teaching a lot. More than teaching, I love being a student of a great teacher and I love learning. Teaching first and foremost calls me into the sphere of learning and continually asks me to grow and refine—not only my knowledge—but myself, so that I can actually help people. I am continually amazed how much inner work has been, and continues to be, required to exhibit anywhere close to how I want to be as a teacher. I am grateful for the path that teaching keeps me on, although sometimes the lessons are tough to swallow. Of course, I am also happy to report that the lessons also come in pretty lovely packages.
So at some point, I realized I could not make a method, nor did I want to lock everything down in such a way it could be packaged, sold and commodified. And close to that realization was the recognition that about the only thing I felt qualified to do was to facilitate and nurture a community of learning. I can stand in front of a room and play a leadership role only in so far as that role does not require me to have all the answers, to be the best in the room, or to be beholden to the same truths tomorrow that seem true to me today. And for the last few years, that approach has been deepening within me and I am finding that, for a handful of students, it seems to be a viable strategy.
By viable, I mean that enough people have been interested in learning this way that my business is sustainable. And more importantly, than that, I say viable because I am watching people who are willing to repeatedly put themselves in an 800-sq ft room and practice asana, mantra, pranayama and other various means of self-inquiry in a small group setting: These individuals grow and deepen—not just as asana practitioner and teachers—but as human beings living soulful lives with honesty and passion.
I do not mean to imply that my students are all really happy. They aren't. Some are, of course. And none of them all of the time, that is for sure. They are struggling to make ends meet, to parent with integrity, to crawl out of depression, to heal from trauma, to overcome addictions, to love fully, to forgive themselves and each other, and to have faith and hope. We are a very imperfect bunch, truth be told.
And yet, it seems there is no better ground to find compassion for oneself than in the aftermath of our greatest mistakes. No better teacher of forgiveness exists than betrayal. No better way to find love than in the broken shards of the heart that have carved the deep cuts of self-hatred. As time goes by and I learn more of the details of my students' stories, I find their beauty heart-breaking at times. There is not one person in the room without wounds and yet no one is without resilience, depth and longing for something Real. I do not think I could find finer company.
Years ago, one of my teachers spoke about the Grace of the teacher. I have known this Grace as a living and breathing force, with many manifestations. Today, I am reminded of the second part of the teaching he gave that day: The Grace of the Student. For as much as we are held in the grace of our teachers, the teachers also are held in the Grace of their students. We exist in one other, held in this field of grace, participating in what to me is nothing short of a blessing.
Fine company indeed.
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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."