Monday, August 23, 2010

Same and Different

We spent yesterday morning in a public class that Karen taught. She taught the theme of generosity with the Primary Flows and took it to eka pada rajakapotasana and toward natrajasana. It was fun to see her approach to those poses since it was pretty different than how I normally approach teaching those poses.Really, I think that is the value of team teaching- students, trainees and teachers get to see there are so many effective ways to get the job done.

That is one of the things I love most about Anusara Yoga and about John's vision for us as teachers. He has always encouraged us to find our authentic voice and our authentic presentation within the boundaries of the method. And it is not just some idea with him or something he gives lip service to and then in his heart of hearts holds "one ideal" or "one way". Really, he wants our personality to shine through our teaching and our unique voice to be expressed. So, in a culture that many times encourages homogeneity and at every turn gives us the message that there is only one way to be beautiful, successful, talented and fantastic, here, as Anusara Yoga teachers, we are offered a unique opportunity to discover who we really are and to hone the skills we need to express that awareness skillfully. Because of this opportunity, I believe that teaching yoga is a path of healing and a path of the deepest transformation. There is not one aspect of my personality, teaching yoga has not called me to confront and examine and there is not one talent it has not called upon and not one weakness I haven't been asked to grow beyond. Seriously.

We talked about this a lot during our week in Tucson. Ideally, these changes and shifts that being a yoga teacher is asking us to make are taking us in a direction that is toward our best self and toward who we really already are and dream of being. If we really feel that teaching Anusara Yoga is asking us to be someone we are really are not or have no desire to be then we have to ask some deeper questions. I am serious about this. I teach a lot of yoga and I devote a lot of my life to this work and if I had to spend as much time as I do teaching pretending to be someone I am not, I would crack. No doubt. I just would not be able to hold up to that kind of duplicity. Not me. But it isn't as easy as "just be yourself" because who we think we are and who we actually are are not always the same thing. And how we behave because of our samskaras and personality traits is not always aligned with who we really are in our Heart.

So here is the rub- I am not, for instance, naturally patient. (Anyone who knows me, knows this is true. I have lots of great traits- I know I do, but patience isn't really one of them. Left to my own devices, I want things immediately, I tend to the impulsive and my first reaction to things is usually mostly fire and wind, not earth.) And yet, to be a good yoga teacher, some (actually, a lot of) patience is required. Teaching yoga asks me to step into a realm of patience that is not natural for me. I have to cultivate that trait in order to be more effective at my work and I can see that being more patient with myself and others is actually something that is desirable to me. And I know that when I am really in my heart, I am more patient than when I am in my personality habits so, I work on it. If, in my own self assessment, I thought patience was not worthwhile, then yoga would be "turning me into someone I am not" and I would have to ask myself, "Is this the right thing for me?"

So it's a process. And its different for every teacher or aspiring teacher. For some people, patience is very natural trait but being on stage is difficult or taking charge is hard or being direct is the challenge. For people who feel very deeply, articulating the practice publicly can make them feel like they are exposed beyond what is tolerable or at least beyond what is comfortable. Some people wish they could teach yoga without ever having someone look at them in a pair of tights or without ever having to point to a body part! So the list is somewhat endless in terms of how this dynamic might manifest. But we can be sure that whatever it is for each of us, the process of growing into an excellent and mature teacher is going to ask us to confront ourselves and will persistently ask us to grow beyond who we think we are into who we actually are.

That being said, we do not need to change everything, nor should we and our personality traits are useful so long as they serve the yoga, the students and so on. That's what's fun about teaching with Karen- she and I are good and long-time friends and yet we are very different people. She is introverted and I am more extroverted. She has a gentler approach as a teacher and me not so much. She is much more poetic and feeling-oriented as a person and teacher and I am more technical and linear in my practice and teaching. Having said that, its not that she is without superb technical prowess and it is not that I am without mystical feeling-qualities. Its just that the primary door through which we approach the practice and the teaching is different. And the point I want to make here is that, it should be.

Over the years I have come to notice two basic approaches to life in people. Some people I meet love difference. And some people I meet, love similarity. When I was 18 or so, I spent a year in an emotional growth program doing very intensive recovery work and the flavor of a lot of that work was seeing how similar the human experience is underneath the surface level of behavior. After I completed that program, I landed at Prescott College which is a small liberal arts college with a very bohemian kind of flavor and every group process session we had people said things like, "Wow, it's so cool how different we all are." So, I began to see, early in life, that some people come easily to the idea of difference and struggle to be just like everyone else. Others are very comfortable with unity and struggle to assert and validate difference. I have always been someone who marched to the beat of a different drummer but I was not someone who found this easy. Seriously, as a child, I actually longed to fit in, to feel the same and to not be so different. But I know plenty of people who resist joining things, who resist "belonging to something" for fear that their individuality will be lost in doing so.

What is cool about being part of the Anusara Yoga community is that we celebrate both unity and difference. We see both as important and recognize a field of unity in which diversity is essential. So when, as teachers, or as members of this community, we feel like one aspect of ourselves- our commonality or our individuality- is being threatened, we need to ask ourselves is it really Anusara Yoga that is doing that or is it just a perception based on our internal transference. For instance- I am am someone who is uncomfortable with unity and being the same as others then every time I get asked to grow "for the good of the whole" I will feel threatened and I project my feelings out onto ANUSARA YOGA or my local kula, etc. (They are making me change!) Or, if I am uncomfortable with being an individual and standing in my own truth, every time I asked to speak from my own experience and find my authentic voice I am going to get scared and wish that someone would give me the exact answer for how to do this right and wish they would stop answering my sincere questions with "it depends"! ("Just tell me the right way to be in the club!")

And all this is easy enough to grok on paper but when we are in a pattern, when we are in the feeling part of all this it can be overwhelming and it can be very difficult to sort out. At the end of the day, however, hopefully the path is asking us to grow beyond our limits while also affirming and making use of our strengths in the process. I always say teaching Anusara Yoga is an affirming and uplifting ass-kicking.

So, something like that.


Huggins Crew said...

Very perfectly insightful! You know, the reason I decided I could follow this path of teaching yoga, is because I could see that you were being you, not putting on pretenses about what you should be as a yoga teacher. I have a commitment to myself to never try to be something I am not. (I have gone down that road before.) I did not feel like my personality was really the personality of a yoga teacher. I am not all lovey and sweetness upon sweetness as many of my yoga teachers are. After watching you be so real, I thought, maybe I can do that. So, thank you Christina for making it your practice to be real. Thank you for sharing this amazing insight. I hope to one day be totally okay with being different.

Much love to you!


I love this. So inspiring as I often find it difficult to work in too many boundaries and rules! I have no patience either - had a ton as a child so I know it is somewhere accessible to me.

Melanie Buffett said...

Thanks Christina. Your writing is always helpful and insightful. Looking forward to seeing you in MS. Hope you have a great day. Love, Melanie