Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Message

Mandy wrote such a thoughtful response to my last post that I figured I might at least post some musings on the topic of Teaching Heart Themes and Philosophy. So if you did not read my post yesterday or if you did not read Mandy's comment, you might want to as it is "The Back Story."

The thing about teaching Anusara Yoga is that there is no one way to do it although there are certainly guidelines and there are certainly things that are not Anusara Yoga. As far as a theme goes, as long as it boils down to the two main reasons we practice Anusara Yoga then you are golden. (What are the two reasons? Repeat after me- CHIT know the self and ANANDA delight in that knowledge.) So you can start in the Universal domain with things like the tattvas and end up in the personal domain with taking your thighs back or loving yourself or mindfulness. Or you can start in the personal and end up in the Universal. Really- either way is fine. Part of what we want to do as teachers is to be skillful about navigating these domains and tying them together in ways that are meaningful as well as practical. But the field is really wide open. After all when John was in Seattle this year, his theme was Game Day. (It was Super Bowl weekend.) But everyone who was there said it was some of his most brilliant, Highest teaching ever. (Of course. he is the master at this. After all, this is his method!)

I personally think that it is a terrible trend in our method that we have so much heavy duty philosophy being taught in classes and workshops that people think they have to go get a doctorate just to teach Anusara Yoga. Even worse is that are students are starting to feel like they need a doctorate just to take our classes! However, I personally prefer to teach from a Universal theme more often than a personal theme and I actually prefer to take classes that are taught from there in general. But that is Christina Sell- not Anusara Yoga. Interview another teacher and they might say that they prefer to teach from the personal. Again, there is no one way. Personal style is part of the fun of it.

And part of my experiment with the weekend in Calgary was developing a broader range of personal style. One of the reasons I actually got started teaching from the Universal more often is because when I first started teaching themes all those years ago, I actually had people argue with me or want to have a discussion about it rather than just listen. My students in the room would actually pipe up and say, "Well, I really do not see it that way" or "to me acceptance is more like this" and so on. So much of how I saw yoga and how it related to me personally did not make sense so I found that it was actually easier for me to teach "this is what the philosophy says" as opposed to "this is what Christina Sell believes" . It just went better. (There is more I could write about why all this "group sharing" happened but well, my point being is that out of this experience, grew a personal style.)

Also, as a kind of recovering cynic, I never really "bought" the whole rhetoric of Anusara Yoga until I learned that it had deep philosophical roots. It just put my BS hackles up being told "its all good" and "Open Your Heart" and so on. But once I saw that the happy, heart-based language and all that was really a philosophy made simple and accessible, I relaxed. When I was shown the way that our method is a philosophy embodied, then I was intrigued because now it wasn't New Age drivel, it was the embodiment of the dharma. For instance Melting the Heart is not just some kind of nice sentiment- it is actually a meditation technique where we allow the fire of consciousness that resides in the heart to melt away our crystallized beliefs, ignorances and so on. (Paul Mueller Ortega referred to this process a lot in his talks on the Shiva Sutras in Denver. He was more elegant about his description than me, however!)

The other thing is that I started teaching yoga after being a psychotherapist for years and really, at that time I did not want to deal in much of anything very psychological.

My point is- all kinds of things determine our personal style. Also- there is the fact that there is a shakti, a power, in simple words when they are backed by a personal knowledge of the philosophy and with deep personal practice and inquiry. This is why Game Day could kick ass as a theme because it wasn't just a simple message to John, it carried a kind of potency because it was contextualized so deeply in the Universal and in his relationship to what he was saying.

And this is part of another point and that is that we have to look at teaching The Anusara Yoga Message and our own personal message over a long period of time and within the context of our own practice. I mean really- it is an investment on both ends-the teacher's and the student's. Our method simply cannot be understood overnight and its elegant integration cannot be experienced, perceived, etc. quickly. So, why feel like we have to convey all of it in one class? There is no way. A public asana class is a forum for getting people moving, teaching the poses, teaching the alignment methodology and doing that with a heart-based or philosophically-based theme that connects people to their intrinsic goodness.

Now the other thing is that public classes vary a lot situation to situation. Teaching at YogaYoga for instance, in 1.25 hour segments with a lot of new people every time lends itself to one kind of teaching and therefore one kind of expression of Anusara Yoga. And teaching the same group of students over a long period of time in an Anusara Yoga studio lends itself to a different kind of teaching. For instance all of the alignment I teach in an Immersion I learned in classes from Des and in workshops from John - not from an Immersion. But now we have Immersions for that. So the thing is-- it just depends as to what forum is best for what. (But this is another long story as this issue is arising at the level of curriculum development and I am on that committee.)

Now on a side note--and be ready for this in Teacher Training because I am very opinionated on this- I never, ever, ever in a million years assume that a beginner is not interested in philosophy or about the deeper aspects of the practice. I never assume that because someone is new to asana that they do not have an inner life, that they have not contemplated the meaning of life and that they are not interested in learning about our philosophy. One of my biggest pet peeves is when some teacher meets me for the first time and they assume that I have little self- awareness or self-knowledge or experience just because they have not been there to witness it. So we really just have no idea what our students are bringing to the experience.

Now- the more I write about this (and believe me I could keep writing about all that is involved with teaching Ansuara Yoga) I realize that the thing is -- and this, I think, was the point of Mandy's comment and my post yesterday- really, all we are ever teaching is who we are and what we are learning. That is what I think Des was getting at, what I am thinking about these days and what Mandy was musing about. I think the "message in the message" is the message.

My personal opinion is that if our own personal message doesn't at least resonate with the content and context of the Anusara Yoga message, then we should probably teach another method. And if both our personal message and the Anusara Yoga message doesn't match up with our teaching presentation because of our own shortcomings and personal weaknesses, then we should really shore up our behavior. (Like for me-if teaching self-love is my thing I cannot be a super-critical, harsh and pissed off person or teacher all the time because that would be working against my intention for myself personally and also as a teacher.) But lucky for me, the practice and teachings and guidance of Anusara Yoga has been a huge help in this journey of self-love. No conflict there.

All right, enough already. Obviously I could go on like this for hours and hours and while this is not a complete commentary on all that I think about teaching Anusara Yoga, it is enough for now. Thanks for stopping by.


mandy said...

Thanks Christina...I understood everything that you wrote. Thank you for the clarity and also giving me more to chew on. This teaching Anusara yoga never gets boring.

on a sidenote...for those of you that are reading this and are getting into teaching the method. Christina just gave us a generous helping of free teacher training and she does so frequently through her blog and teachings. I'm not sure if there is a more generous teacher out there than Christina. We are truly lucky.

Also in Febuary of this year I hit my two year mark of being an inspired teacher. I'm sure that with Christina's guidance the process will be more speedy for you all. But in these two years I've learned that for now....I just take it one day at a time. I'm becoming very familar with what I'm comfortable teaching in the public class forum just recently. Really just this year, after two years have I become more clear on what it is that my heart would like to convey and getting comfortable with teaching the philosphy or tying in the universal. It doesn't happen for me every class still, as some days I'm fuzzy on what exactly I'm doing as an A.I. yoga teacher. This is because of several differant reasons...either I'm not clear on something within my practice or understanding or I feel that the students or unintersted in learning. (Okay so we see the cloaking even in the way we try to present the method). Anyways I hope that if you are like me, new to teaching the method, that this brings you some comfort that I'm only just now becoming clear on how to teach a heart theme. I wish you all either a more speedy process or the patience to endure the process. Truthfully I'm glad I'm in the later as it's too good of a process to speed through.

Leanne said...

Dear Mandy and Christina-

What excellent discussion and writing! It is perfect timing for some things I was wondering about my themes. I am more the "start personal work up to the universal" theme teacher and I was wondering if that was wrong or not as good etc. I have just found my students seem to respond better to my teachings when I add how it applies to my own rather mundane, child filled, life. I don't think that it is because that is a better way to teach, but I think it brings out my authentic voice in my teaching better. Perhaps it is because I am still scratching the surface of the philosophy so when I do learn something I try to see how it applies to my daily life rather than keeping it esoteric. I mean it can be as silly as finding the bathtub in Japan but really- the teachings sometimes become clear in such mundane situations.
My message...I really think my message is that practice on the mat can make you a better mother, friend and partner. Two hours on the mat can give you a new perspective- the ability to look at a troubling situation with new eyes- and possibly deal with it with new skills.
My students favorite class (or at least the one they keep talking about) was one where I told a story of dropping my son off at school. When I came back to my car in the very crowded street another car had wedged itself in so tight to me in an illegal place that I couldn't get out. My first reaction was "What a JERK! they totally locked me in here! Have they no consideration???!" Then I got into my car and thought "that is not very yogic- can you react better?" I then thought..OK. There was no where to park - we all have to walk our kids up to the kindergarden door- we are all in a hurry- is this really a big deal in the scheme of things? Maybe that parent was really trying their best and hoping to make it back out here before me. I immediately felt better. I saw the guilty parent the minute she came down the sidewalk- the look of panic on her face as I rolled down my window- she literally began to cringe as I opened my mouth- she thought she was in for it..and I said " No worries- it's super busy here today. What's five minutes?" and I smiled at her. I think she was a little shocked- that obviously was not the reaction she was expecting. I drove away feeling light and happy rather than pissed off and muttering swear words under my breath. It's a small thing I know, but really small things like that have started to change the tapestry of my life. Anusara Yoga has given me the skill to be a better weaver and Christina introduced me to the method of which I am so thankful on a daily basis.

Mandy was right- you have always been very generous with your teaching.
Love Leanne :>)