Teaching Yoga?

I am nearing the time when I need to take continuing training in order to maintain my yoga teaching certification.  Difficult to schedule, perhaps, but not difficult to find – there are still hundreds of things I’d love to know more about – if anything, there are far more trainings than I have time for.  However, I was thinking the other day that the first few years of teaching yoga should count as some sort of training in themselves – because nothing has taught me more about yoga than teaching yoga.

Heather Elliott 1

Yoga is intensely personal – no matter if you’re in a class of 50 or a private class, where you are is where you are, and yoga must meet you there.  The most amazing thing about yoga, I think, is that it always does.  No matter where you are, yoga can be right there with you, supporting you and helping you to excavate deeper and deeper into your self to teach you what you need to know.  Hyper-flexible?  Yoga will admire that, but teach you that flexibility requires strength.  Impatient?  Yoga will offer lots of quick rewards, all the while holding out on some things.  Goal-oriented?  Awesome, you’ll be doing peak poses in no time, but you’ll realize that’s not the point.

As a teacher, it’s hard to hit your stride.  It’s hard to sort out for yourself what sort of teacher you are – and no matter how many teachers you’ve had, or how much you’ve learned from them, you’re on your own when it’s your class.  And it’s startling to learn whether or not you like teaching, where your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher are, and what you really think about yoga.

I’ve been teaching yoga weekly for nearly 2 years, and I feel pretty comfortable, now.  But here’s the truth:  you can’t teach yoga.  You can guide yoga, you can offer yoga, you can model yoga, you can demonstrate yoga, you can talk yoga, you can explain yoga, you can report on research about yoga – but teach yoga?  Nope.  If you’re trying, though, you will find every place where you are challenged by yoga.  Every place where you are unsure, every place where you don’t understand as well as you thought you did, every place where you were flat out wrong.  And that’s okay.  In fact, that’s yoga.

We ask our students over and over and over again to be true to themselves – to be honest about where they are, recognize sensations, play on the edge, challenge themselves, be open, give themselves a break, stop comparing, and just be.  And I’ve learned more about how to do that by trying to teach yoga than I did in the decades I practiced beforehand.

A regular in one of my classes made a point of telling me the other night that he really liked the class we’d just done.  He was beaming and his eyes lit up with happiness.  And I was so pleased that it had connected with him – so happy to see him so happy – and immediately I started to think about how the class had been constructed and whether there was something that I could do more of in order to give him that experience more often.  And then yoga caught up with me and I stopped.  Because that class hadn’t been a class I’d normally do – it was done in order to incorporate something another student had asked about – it was a far more traditional Iyengar style class than I’d usually teach.  Which is the style that he likes.  And in order to make him that happy more often, I’d have to teach something that isn’t really my thing.  I’m all for it sometimes – it’s fun to have students request things – I research, I plan, and we try it together – and we both learn something.  But all I can offer with any consistency is me – what I bring to the mat as a ‘teacher’ is the same thing I bring as a student:  myself.  And no matter what anyone else favors or wants or does, all I can offer is me.  Yoga taught me that.

I don’t think any of us are yoga teachers.  Some of us are yoga models, some are yoga demonstrators, some are yoga explainers, some are yoga guides, and on our best days – those days that we are living the practice – all of us are yoga facilitators.  It’s called a practice for a reason – yoga itself is the teacher, and we all always have more to learn.

Copyright 2017 Heather Elliott. Used with permission.

 

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Infinity

If you check Sacred Space Online you will see several yoga classes incorporating an infinity pattern sequence into the routine.  One day as I did this up and down continuous flow on the yoga mat, I envisioned an analogy to life’s path.  Life is an infinity pattern and symbol. It is not linear from birth to death, with a definite beginning and end.  It is not even circular, where, though continuous, all is equally on a flat playing surface.

infinity

Rather, life is a Figure 8 Infinity on its side, ups and downs, highs and lows, meeting always at the same shared dot in the center of it all, a vertex/vortex of sorts. The center dot is the reckoning place of it all, a resting place if you will, a place to catch your breath in retrospection and reflection, and also in preparation for the next exhilarating mountaintop experience, or low of the valley. Events, feelings, relationships, highs and lows, good times and bad, all meeting eventually at the center of our being, to evaluate, assess, analyze, and then move on to continue flowing on our path of infinity.

Copyright 2017 Linda Parks. Used with permission.

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro? Highest mountain in Africa. I have had many Kilimanjaros in my life, as I’m sure everyone has. The first year I tried to reach the top, altitude sickness descended on me with aching head, no appetite, body fluids deciding on their own to leave my body (I’ll spare the details). At 15,000 feet I could make it no further. Failure reverberated throughout my body, soul, and spirit. I wanted to climb four thousand more feet. That’s all. Get a picture of sunrise atop the highest peak in Africa, get a certificate, pass Hemingway’s success test. It didn’t happen, no matter how much I wanted it, no matter how much my climbing team encouraged me. The lessons I learned from this pass/fail experience have stayed with me, though. As I trudged back down, head bowed in defeat, I reached the clearing of the savannah and suddenly looked back at my nemesis. I raised my walking stick high in the air, shook it at the snow-capped peak, and shouted, “I’ll be back!”

The next year, even before the climb, I was so sick I could not begin the climb with my team. Time was running out, so I decided the next morning to go anyway. My climbing buddy would be a gray-haired man I quickly dismissed, wondering if he could make the climb. He turned out to be my guardian angel, a Canadian silver medalist in the ’56 Olympics, and a trainer of World Class rowers! We walked twenty-five minutes and rested five; this cycle was repeated and fortified with nuts, raisins, chocolate, tea and water, until we reached the first hut for overnight. The next morning, still sick, I knew what the hike involved and didn’t know if I could make it. I prayed for God’s guidance, and suddenly the wind blew the crude wooden door of the hut wide open, revealing the most glorious morning sunbeams shining right onto my sleeping bag cocoon. The voice in my head reminded me, “I have set before you an open door.” That was my answer. “Okay, let’s do it!”

Linda Parks cropped

When I finally reached the top, I knew it was not in my strength, but in God’s strength alone that I had made it. That lesson recurs in many daunting activities in my life. Driving around Chicago I was scared to death, doubting if I could make it. I heard God’s voice reminding me, “If I can get you to the top of the highest mountain in all of Africa, in my strength alone, don’t you think I can get you around Chicago?” Yes, yes, and yes.  When my father died, when I moved, left Kenya, got a new job, faced illness, the question was the same. That question applies to anything and everything you or I must face.  And the answer is always, “Yes, yes, yes.”

Copyright 2017 Linda Parks. Used with permission.