I started writing this entry on the way home from Grand Rapids, Michigan where I taught a weekend workshop at Peace Lab Yoga. I am finishing the post at my desk in Austin after a re-entry that has had me chained to the computer and dealing with some administrative tasks that are kind of exhausting for various reasons. Anyway--
This was my second visit to Peace Lab Yoga to teach and it was really great. Peace Lab Yoga always holds a special place in my heart because days after I resigned my license to teach Anusara yoga, I got a note from Melanie McGowen who knew me through Facebook asking me to come to Grand Rapids, Michigan. She told me that she had been teaching at the YMCA for many years and her students had been encouraging her to open up her own studio but she doubted herself and wasn’t ready to take the risk. She told me that watching me take a huge risk in my life gave her the courage she needed to do the same in her own. When she invited me to come and teach she hadn’t left the YMCA and she hadn’t opened the studio yet but she told me that if I said I would come, she would have a place for me to teach by the time I got there.
So this is a great story of how yogis do business sometimes. If you think about it, it makes no logical sense for her to invite me to teach with no studio in which to host the workshop nor does it make any logical sense that I would accept such an invitation. And yet, the whole thing made a different kind of sense to both of us at the time and it really seemed like the right thing to do. So I accepted her invitation. Shortly thereafter, Melanie quit the YMCA and she and her husband, Jim, founded Peace Lab Yoga. By the time I came last year, the studio was up and running and there was a wonderful turn out for the workshop. This year was even better- the studio is more established, Melanie has a great crew of teachers and she is even running a teacher training program this year.
I suppose this is also a story about what happens as we live our lives in a public way due to social media, etc. and the surprising ways our actions can be lessons and omens to others. Sometimes we become lessons of what not to do as we make our mistakes in public and our poor choices become instructive. Other times our choices serve as inspiration, messages to others in times of darkness and examples of new possibilities and reminders to live beyond our fear-based scripts and patterns. There we are, going about living our lives and writing status updates and BAM! someone sees it as a sign. This phenomenon is both sobering and inspiring to me and more than a little humbling.
Melanie has been an enthusiastic participant in my online programs and so it was fun to for me to teach a group of people who have been working with the Asana Junkies sequences and tips for over a year. There was so much groundwork already done that my teaching work was very easeful since the foundation was so strong in so many of the students there. I had a really great time teaching and spending time with the students at Peace Lab as well as the many who travelled in for the workshop from surrounding areas. As always, the best part about a return visit somewhere is seeing the same people again while watching the circle expand a bit as well.
I think the impression of the weekend I am left most with is that there is a joy in teaching yoga when I anchor myself in the actual simplicity of teaching the poses and helping people learn how to do them that gets lost for me when I ponder the larger streams of the yoga industry too much. Melanie and I talked a lot about the trends in the business and in our observations of what is going on in her local community as well as the larger spheres of which we are a part. Like I have spoken about before on this blog, some days I feel like the legacy of yoga is in good hands and we are, as modern practitioners and teachers, wonderful stewards of a wonderful tradition. Other times I can’t help but wonder how anyone coming new to yoga is able to learn the practice in any real way in the midst of so much noise about yoga.
In my travels, I talk to many yoga teachers feeling lost in the noise, frustrated by the industry, the politics, the endless hustling they have to do to make any money teaching and the fear that they just can’t quite keep up with it all. Many people speak to me about feeling somewhat invisible in the midst of what has become a celebrity yoga cuture, whether that culture be at the local, regional, national or international level. Many teachers tell me that they either do not want, or are not being able, to play the game by the current standards that seem to govern sucess for yoga teachers these days and are worried about their place in it all.
So, it seems, it feels like a bit of a jungle out there for many teachers. And perhaps my perspective on some of the trend is informed by the numbers of teachers I talk to in any given month, whether it be in person or in my online seminars and forums. There also seems to be a bit of a shame for some teachers regarding their job difficulties because almost every one of the people I talk to also love their work, believe in the yoga they teach, sincerely want to help people and are grateful for the opportunity to share the practice with others. Time and again I hear stories of teachers on the brink of throwing in the towel only to get an email from a student telling them how much their teaching has impacted them or the burnt-out teacher sees a student get a pose for the first time and gets re-inspired about how success on the mat can shift someone so deeply and so they soldier on. I know for me pondering the ways that community connection transforms peoples perceptions of themselves never gets old and keeps my hat the ring many a day.
I suppose, like so many things, the answer lives in our ability to hold space for many realities to be true simoultaneously and then knowing which reality to pay the most attention to at any given point throughout the journey. For instance, it doesn’t need to be teaching is hard and the business aspect sucks OR I love my students and working with them brings me joy. It can be both. It can be great and hard. It can be wonderful with parts that really suck. And sometimes we have to really acknowledge the difficult parts- and not just focus on the positive parts--so we can trouble shoot the difficult aspects to see if we can improve them or our relationships with them in some way.
What I liked so much about the weekend was that the workshop was fairly straightforward. We didn’t talk much about teaching, we didn’t go to deep in to psychology or philosophy, we just worked on asana with some good pep talks sprinkled throughout. As much as I like teacher training as much as I am a bit of a modern-day philosopher, I have to say that much of the fatigue that hits me in my job is more about the part peripheral to the teaching, not in the actual work of helping people with poses.
And its a bit odd because I actually think the poses are kind of incidental. Don’t get me wrong, everyone knows I love to practice poses and I like to work on them to improve them. I always have. I am into them. I am hooked. And yet it’s weird becuase I also don’t think they are ultimately that important. I think having a way like asana to move stuck energy through our bodies is amazing. I think the asanas are great physical exercise as they help us grow strong and flexible at the same time. The asanas are wonderful for the tool they are for deepening the conscious connection of the body and the mind and the emotions. And I could go on about all the things I love about the asana practice. But I have to say, in a very real way the purpose the asana serve is more important to me than the poses in and of themselves. I mean really, we can live good happy lives and never touch a foot behind our head, drop back into a back bend or sit in lotus.
Anyway, like I said, the asana are amazing tools for so many things, not the least of which is self-observation. It seems to me that we can learn so very much about ourselves by simply watching ourselves struggle to engage, maintain and become established in practice. We get to watch our patience, our self-honesty, our ambition, our self-criticism, our laziness, our compassion, our work ethic, our excuses , our courage, our tenacity, our perseverance and so on. Of course we get to see our lack of those things as well- good and bad, positive and negative. The asanas are such a lovely projection screen upon which to observe our inner machinations and get to know ourselves better. They are like a self-inventory in action. I actually love that about them very much and the inner life of practice is what has kept me interested all these years.
And yet, as a teacher, I always love returning to the majestic simplicity of how to do the poses and how to work toward the poses as if they actually matter. And that is how the weekend ran. I talked a little about the inner aspects of progress through asana but mostly, we worked on poses, laughed a lot and everyone worked very hard. For the last few years I have played with some different sequencing approaches and I feel like I am settling back into a new wave of peak posture sequencing informed by some of my forays into more full-spectrum/potpourri approaches but yet back to my home-base style of intelligently, progressively unfolding toward a pinnacle pose with the repetition of key actions throughout.
So all that to say, I am happy about the weekend both in terms of what I offered and how it was received.
More soon. Time to practice asana before dinner.
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