I am happy to be sitting down at my computer with some time to write a blog entry. After my last entry, Gioconda Parker and I taught a 5-day training for the Alchemy of Flow and Form Advanced Teacher Training called the Fundamentals of Teaching. AS many of you know, we teach an 11-month Online Teacher Development Program that and this year we added an onsite component as an option for folks looking to register with Yoga Alliance at the 500-hour level.
One of the students said, "honestly, I am not sure I could have integrated more, even if you had offered more!" which was a great reminder that more is not always more.
And look, I know there are "puppy mill 200-hour" teacher training programs out there training people to teach yoga whose only program requirements seem to be that the prospective trainee has $3000 and can fog up the mirror. And certainly I know that there are plenty of ego-maniac, narcissistic personaltiy-types out there teaching yoga who exploit the vulnerable students who have entrusted their yoga education to a charlatan. Obviously, I am aware that the pressure of making a living in a competitive industry that requires dealing with lots of different kinds of people does not always bring out the best in any of us. And I know that many folks will spend only a few years in this noble profession before having children, going back to school, finding a more reliable income stream and/or exploring other creative ways to be of service and make a difference in the world.
No way— he remains, to this day, in another league entirely.
Right after my friend asked me to teach at her studio I was at a workshop with my teacher and I told him that one of my friends asked me to teach at her studio. I told him that when I got out of college with a counseling degree I had been handed groups of teenagers to “counsel” and I realized in retrospect that I had no business trying to help those kids but I didn’t know until after the fact that I wasn’t ready. I told him that I figured teaching yoga would end up the same way and so maybe I should tell my friend that I wasn’t ready. It seemed the repsonsible thing to do, after all.
He said, “Well, the first thing you need to know is that EVERYBODY teaches before they are ready. That is how it works. That is simply built into the system.”
I remember staring at him at this point in the conversation. Chances are good my jaw dropped and my mouth was hanging open a bit.
He continued, saying, “But you live in a small town in Arizona. Who, in that small town of yours, knows more about yoga than you?”
And then he added, “What you have to remember is 1.) Only teach the poses you can do. If you can’t do it, don’t teach it, 2.) Make sure you remain a student and keep working on your own practice and 3.) make sure you have a relationship with a teacher who is more experienced than you are who will answer questions for you that you will inevitably run into when you are teaching.”
And so, I went home and said, “yes” to my friend and started teaching yoga. No 200-hour training program, no goal-setting, no Vision, no Mission, no life-plan, no-nothing other than a mixed-blessing from my teacher, a time-slot on the schedule, and a desire to help people.
My first class had 3 people. Mary Kate came. She had to come— she was my college roomate and was obligated to be there so I knew at least one person would be in my class. Barry also came to class. He was the studio owner’s astrologer who had a class pass in trade for casting a chart with an auspicious date for the studio’s opening. And Sunny came. I met Sunny when I subbed a class at the YMCA for Julie.
And the times have changed and yet, I still follow my former teacher’s advice. I teach the poses I can do. I remain a curious student and I talk to my teachers and colleagues about my troubles. I make a ton of mistakes. I do my best to stick by my students and I am amazed that so many have stuck by me.
And I know why some haven’t. None of this is easy. For a lot of reasons.
And I know— puppy millls, etc.
But I have to say that I do not spend a lot of time with that these days. I have students who came out of those training programs and they are eager to learn, passionate about growth and allow their minds to be blown open with what comes after their initial training. Sure- some folks don’t keep going, but I deal with the people who do keep going and they are pretty darn inspiring.
I can’t worry about what someone did or did not get before they get to me. I am not saying I do not have opinions about all of it but I am saying that people walk into the world of yoga through very different doorways and the best way for me to see the situation we are in together is to be happy that people walked into yoga at all.
I mean, it seems simple enough, right? Yoga instruction often boils down to “Straighten your arms” or “Straighten your legs,” or whatever. But it is not that simple. It really isn’t. Bent arms and legs belong to people and the cue/adjustment/sequence/input is coming from a person and the correction/adjustment is given in front of other people and so the somewhat simple task of straightening our arms and/or legs becomes a much more complex interaction with a dizzying number of variables.
The thing about teaching yoga is that teachers and students traverse a universe between “arms bent” and “arms straight”. We cross a chasm when a “stupid question” isn’t dismissed but instead opens a doorway of greater understanding. We heal a lifetime of isolation and shame when the risk we take yields the safety to feel unsafe and the courage to be vulnerable. When the questioning of long-cherished understandings and ideals produces an edge of discrimination and clarity we find a way of knowing that transcends the personal domain of experience and takes us into a communal understanding of truth, if even for one moment.
I have said it before but there is something about yoga that feels to me like “growing up in public.” And it is Big.
I often say teaching yoga is an empowering ass-kicking. There is no other job I know of where you get a chance to witnes such profound growth in yourself and others while being so profoundly and publicly criticized and questioned and in which you will question yourself so repeatedly. For every “win” we have as teachers we have a chance to improve on something else. And we have to get good with that as teachers or we won’t last. We will burn out. The work will kill us.
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