Q:What is the definition of an expert?
A: Someone who lives out of town.
Given that the majority of the teaching work I do these days involves me getting on a plane to go teach, I enjoy the “expert” status that comes along with being a teacher from “out-of-town.” I figure that means that the students are typically a little more patient with my long-winded explanations, detailed demonstrations, and slow-paced teaching style than they might be if it was Wednesday night class and we shared the same zip code.
Be that as it may be, I am continually inspired by the sincerity of students in the workshops I teach.
I think learning yoga is difficult. Each one of us steps into the classroom— be it a public class, an online offering, a workshop, or a training-- with a unique set of circumstances including, but not limited to, our personal history, our current lifestyle, our hopes and dreams, our strengths and weaknesses, our unchecked biases, our privileges and disadvantages. For all of our similarities, we are also different, with variables are too numerous to name.
I also think teaching yoga is difficult. Teachers vary in education, expertise, charisma, compassion, dedication, maturity, depth, and skill. Learning environments range from private sessions to gym classes to public parks to eclectic studios to studios dedicated to a singular approach of study and practice. Some teachers are articulate in their own bodies, but give confusing cues. Some teachers give great cues, but don’t know why what they say seems to work. Some teachers are kind, but inexperienced. Some are seasoned, but impatient. Some are poetic. Some are concrete. Some are practical. Some are mystical. And so on.
And, if you set aside learning styles, teaching styles, personality preferences, and limitations galore, still the subject matter of yoga is as vast as the ocean. Each one of us comes to the shores of the subject, dressed for gym class, holding a tiny little cup called “our current capacity” and engage a sophisticated, physically and psychologically complex endeavor that is often set to music, crammed in between appointments and family obligations, and do our best to learn.
And, to my continued amazement, for all of the mis-information, confusion, and problems that seem to exist, the process also works for many people. I do not mean to say that it works perfectly or that there are not times where it fails. Certainly, there is enough evidence out here in the Yoga Blogosphere about the abysmal failures of teachers, systems, communities, and practitioners that it would be ludicrous to suggest that nothing is broken or that nothing needs to be improved upon. I know I am doing my best to make changes to my teaching that best reflect my current understanding of my past mistakes.
And yet, I see people find each other. Friendships form in these rooms that endure. I see people find themselves and begin the process of making peace with long-forgotten places of pain and previously unknown sources of beauty. I see bodies get stronger and more mobile. I see discernment dawn in simple acts such as modified postures and intelligent questions. I see people choose to spend time, money,and attention to explore who they are through the practices of yoga. I see these same people stay with that process through every great joy and tragedy that life can dish out. My friends, students, colleagues and teachers on path have practiced through births and deaths, marriages and divorces, abortions, miscarriages, murders, abuse, manipulation, disappointments, and anything else you can name. And for every trauma that gets triggered, we also have reparative, corrective experiences that heal.
I have seen the practice rise up inside each of us when we least expect it. We remember to breathe, we know how to respond to someone we love, we shut up, we speak out, we expand beyond our body of habits in some mall way that creates just enough room for a new possibility to emerge. Of course, we fall short also. Obviously, despite our best intentions, we make mistakes. We miss the mark. But, there are moments. There are moments when we can glimpse that all that yoga was not a “time out” from a busy or stressful life, but was, instead, a training in warriorship, a preparation for service, and an exercise in compassion.
My spiritual teacher used to say that there were three times in life when we are most available to Divine Influence: 1. When we are praying; 2. When we are laughing; and 3. When we think nothing is going on. I am pretty big into prayer and I am a pretty funny yoga teacher, but I have to say that I think most of my life of practice and teaching falls into the third domain he mentioned. I rarely think that anything very meaningful is happening in my effort to do trikonasana or to push up to urdhva dhanurasana. I do not roll out my mat most days with lofty aims or high intentions. I mostly practice with an “another day, another down dog” kind-of-mentality, much in the same way I brush my teeth.
And yet, it seems that something has been built. And I see it in my students also. I have the good fortune to have been teaching long enough for my students to have been practicing with me for over 20 years. What I have come to see is that learning, practicing, teaching and living are a long-term relationship and not a one-night stand. And like any long-term relationship, there are good times and bad, tough moments as well as tender times.
Yes, I think learning yoga is difficult. And, so too, is teaching. And yet, I believe the process works.
More soon. Keep the faith.
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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."