At this risk of sounding a bit tone deaf to current events and the many upsetting examples of division, oppression and misuses of power, today I am writing about teaching yoga. And, lately, when not contemplating national and world events, I have been thinking a lot about what I care about in yoga and what I do not care about.
The longer I teach, the less I care about why people come to my class. As far as I can tell, people’s reasons for attending a class or a workshop vary greatly from fitness to inner peace and from time-out to time-in. I used to care about what I considered “pure motives” but now, not so much. Why someone is in my class is not necessarily my business.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that most people’s lives that are an interesting and oftentimes-messy mix of things that are going well and things that are flying off the rails in some way. (And if some situation or relationship is not currently flying off the rails, chances are, said circumstance just landed or is about to take off. But I digress.) Most of us have pain and joy in equal measure throughout any given year and everyone has periods of lightness and stretches of agonizing darkness. And, whether or not someone wants a cuter butt, a compassionate community, or is interested in abiding in the presence of the deepest Self, I am pretty sure no one is in the room with such an abundance of self-esteem and self-love that they need something to bring them down a notch. Most people are in class because they want a positive experience for themselves. We may not all agree on what makes any given class or workshop “positive” but as far as I can tell, most people are not hate-attending yoga class; they are not spending their hard-earned money and precious time to be upset, disappointed or put-down.
So, with all that said, I still don’t really care why someone is in my classroom.
I also do not care if everyone in my class can do every pose that I teach or not. I do not care if someone sits some things out. I do not think that everyone needs to do all the poses to live a good and meaningful life. And, even though it might seem like straight arms and legs are a big thing with me during the duration of class, truth be told, I really don’t care about it much in the grand scheme of life. Just so you know, I know that the benefits of yoga are not dependent on flexible hamstrings or balancing in handstand.
I do care, however, that we have a healthy rapport and that we are working toward a mutual acknowledgement of limits and capacities. I do care that over time we are working together to find appropriate stages, modifications, and/or alternatives to poses that are troublesome. I also care that we identify the poses that are simply out of the questions for any reason.
I know I can not plan a class that will avoid every possible physical limitation in the room while simultaneously meeting the most able-bodied person’s capacities. The task is impossible as far as I can tell. What is possible over the course of engaged study and practice is finding ways to work that are appropriate, uplifting and beneficial.
In the same way that I want students to know their own limits, I want them to know that my limits as a teacher far outnumber their limits as a student.
I do not care if my students are Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, pagan, atheist, agnostic or if their tent is pitched in the spiritual camp of “I Believe, But it’s Complicated.” However, I care deeply that my students learn to hold to their convictions and faith (or lack thereof) with self-respect in my classroom. I do care that students know I present yoga philosophy as part of a yoga education, not as a means to convince, coerce or convert them to something that is not right for them.
I do not care what size body someone is in. Yoga is a come-as-you-are proposition that may or may not change our outer appearance and yoga is not dependent on cute clothes, good hair, small thighs, or buff arms. Of course, if someone likes those things, I certainly do not care about that either. I do not care about what someone ate for lunch or whether or not they prefer green drinks or tacos for breakfast. Tea or coffee, soda or kombucha- again, not my interest.
I do not care if my students agree with everything I say or present. I do care that students feel safe to ask questions. I do care that students know that I know I make mistakes. I care about open channels of communication. I care about accepting responsibility, offering the benefit of the doubt and cultivating compassion for ourselves and each other. I care about studentship and paying attention and I also know that studentship and teaching are processes of maturation that take time. As much as yoga meets us where we are, yoga has the capacity to take us to places we have not yet been and have not yet imagined. I care that we, as a learning community made up of teachers and students, share in the promise of that Possibility.
I also do not care so much about the numerous ways people see what is broken in yoga. I care about discernment, clarity, evolution, and naming pitfalls and problems, but I see criticism as a means and not as an end. In my travels and long-term relationships with yogis and yoginis around the world, I see studios with teachers and students who are committed to growing in and through yoga. I see people who have found themselves and one another through the teachings and practices. I am not blind to the many problems we have and I am interested in naming them so that we can build something strong, wise and resilient. And, if the time comes where I do not see that possibility, you will know, because I will be doing something else.
Oh— and please call your representatives.
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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."