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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