Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Morning Musings on Teaching

Well, its been a few days since my lats entry. I have been doing my best to catch up on email and phone calls and also get some  good time on my mat and with friends and family. Tonight we have Part 2 of Immersion Part 2 at Breath and Body Yoga. I am looking forward to being with the group again. One thing that has been so amazing about this particular group has been their level of preparation and readiness for the materials. Most of them participate in ongoing Anusara Yoga classes around town and so the lingo is familiar, their knowledge base is strong and they are already in sync with the method and the teachings. we have been able to go pretty deep pretty fast which has been fun.

So let's see- the theme for me these days involves some work identifying my growth as a teacher and how my skills and interests are evolving. One cool thing is that as I look around our community in Austin, TX I see lots of my students taking steps in their growth and advancing toward their goals and aims. Mandy Eubanks is teaching her first Immersion in Tulsa, Oklahoma this week and will teach her first Immersion in Austin soon. Jess Goulding just got certified and may be offering an immersion program soon. I just signed off on Desirae Pierce's application for Anusara-Inspried status. Jason Lobo returns to Dallas from a year-long stint in San Marcos with his application for Anusara-Inspired status approved.   Of course, there is more I could write about and that is just in Austin. Student from around the country are emailing me their progress and achievements and successes as they put the teachings into practice in their lives and in their teachings.

So I am feeling a bit like a proud mama these days and finding such wonderful rewards from my students stepping confidently and courageously into their dreams. I have begun to realize and experience directly that my teaching work involves the people in the room for sure but in many ways extends to the people who those people are teaching and in some cases even the students of my students' students.  My awareness of who I am actually working for and my responsibility in that is really expanding and it is inspiring and a bit sobering at times.

John Friend and I were talking about it recently- there is this fine line in teaching Ansuara Yoga between personal style and representing the method accurately. And while having a personal presentation and authentic style is actually part of the method as it is defined- seriously, we want everyone to be themselves- there is also the responsibility we have as teachers of the method to hand it down with integrity, precision, clarity and potency so that its transformational power is preserved through the generations. He and I were talking about the fact that I take that responsibility seriously and yet we also need to be clear as trainers that while we have boundaries, guidelines and standards that are clearly defined, we also are much bigger, as a method, than the stated guidelines. He and I were in a passionate agreement about how broad Anusara Yoga is- how wide and encompassing its methods and applications are-- and how odd it is that Anusara Yoga  feels limiting to people because really, in our opinion, on one level,  teaching "good Anusara Yoga" is simply "good teaching."

This came up in a recent conversation with a trainee who was telling me that he thinks Anusara Yoga is too subtle to teach to people who are not already skilled in yoga. And after listening to his thoughts and experiences I realized this is exactly what John and I were recently  discussing and I disagreed with my trainee's assessment.

I did not disagree with his experience, mind you. I get that. I get that it can be easier to teach Anusara Yoga to someone who already knows the poses and is self-aware with kinesthetic  proficiency.  So I was in no way in disagreement that with his experience as his experience its just that by definition, Anusara Yoga is adaptable and applicable for just about anyone. (That does not mean, however, that every class is appropriate for every person at any time. We have to be smart about how we take such a statement. ) But really, we can work with injury, from a wheel chair, in restoratives, and with senior citizens new to the practice. We can adapt  all the way to cirque du soleil acrobats and everything in between from stiff beginners to seasoned practitioners from technical start-and-stop classes to flowing with breath and so on.

But here is the thing- how Anusara Yoga looks in each of those situations has to be different. We are a bit of a chameleon method, in a way. Try to pin us down to one thing and we might change colors on you and show you another way we can express our true nature! I told my trainee that when I have raw beginners I can teach them a whole class on foundation and "how to step your feet wide" and its Anusara Yoga: "Step your feet wide. Everyone go wider. Even wider, Susie. That's it, Bob. Everyone,  be so courageous in your stance that your feet are lined up right under your wrists. Yes, that far! Be bold.Now let's try it again..." (UPA-Set the foundation. HEART THEME= Courage. Boldness.)

But wait, there is more....

  • With an advanced group- do drop backs for courage and super refined work about the bottom tips of the shoulder blades creating a courageous lift of the heart. (shoulder loop) Or take a courageous stance in the legs and root down with courage (Organic Energy)  and then drop back. 
  • With an injured person in private lessons- "be courageous in your work and dare to imagine yourself already healed." 
  • In a restorative class- "be courageous enough to let go."
  •  In a Level One class- Peak Pose= triangle pose and the sustained courage of muscle energy in the legs that can help provide the foundation to open the pose more toward the sky and get a turn through the torso. 
  • In a  flow class, UPA-The Breath and Opening to Grace."Follow your breath, your rythm as a link to the Source of courage that lives within you. Follow its lead, your heart, your breath, and make a connection to your courage as you move today." 
See my point? It is endlessly creative to teach Ansuara Yoga, not limiting. The thing is, and this is a very important thing to get a handle on, the way its going to look for every group is different. While some methods are defined by set sequences and the modifications for limitation or capacity happen within a set sequence of postures, we are different  and we can adapt our methods, our sequences and our strategies to whoever is in front of us.  I am passionate about this point because at the heart of good Anusara Yoga teaching is teaching to who is in front of us and having a wide and versatile skill set as teachers to respond creatively and appropriately.

This is why it always "depends" in Ansuara Yoga and why it can be frustrating to learn to teach Anusara Yoga and it  is also why it takes a while to get good at teaching our method. We tend to think Anusara Yoga is whatever it was from the person we learned it from without realizing that was a personal expression and relative to the circumstance in which they were teaching. Like if I am teaching my immersion group tonight and someone was not careful they would think "oh, that is a method for advanced people" when in fact, it is simply an advanced group of people doing Anusara Yoga. If someone were to see me teaching a mixed-level workshop of people trained already in Anusara Yoga with good teachers, they would say, "Oh, that method has a lot of technical precision" when in fact I was teaching Level 1 poses since it was mixed-level and giving a ton of refinement since they were already trained in the basics.

So anyway, I thought I would share some of those reflections in case they are useful.  And also, its important to remember that gaining versatility as a teacher takes time. And it is not required. You may just want to work with one type of student and that is totally fine. John himself has said many times that we do not have to try to be all colors of the rainbow. Some people will hold down a beautiful shade of blue and others a lovely shade of red. All that is okay.

Anyway, as I have been pondering my own growth as a teacher I realize I really want to work more and more with Anusara-Inspired teachers and helping them gain more versatility and more proficiency at teaching the method and and in making the leap from the skills required to be Anusara-inspired to what is required to become a Certified Teacher. I am going to be offering some specialized trainings like Teaching to the Raw Beginner and a mentor program with Noah Maze in 2012 (details on that soon) and a sequencing workshop and  some practice-based intensives for Immersion Grads and Teachers at The San Marcos School of Yoga in San Marcos, TX. (Look for the first Level 1 TT there in December and the first intensive in March 2012!) Its really going to be great. And the fun gets started soon at The Anusara-Inspired Gathering in Tahoe in July.


maggie said...

this is so interesting and a topic of contemplation for the last, oh, year of my life:) I generally feel comfortable teaching from a creative and authentic place~ Yoga and Anusara method have transformed my life and friends around me profoundly so the inspiration is effortless and bountiful.
however, I continually criticize my technical representation of the method as it joins with all this creative expression. Your online mentorship exercises have been very helpful. I take rep-ing that part of the method so seriously and am struggling to connect to my courage and Boldness there! ...its video time in TN....
I love this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Christina! This is the type of teacher training I have been looking for. I'm already signed up for the Tucson TT in August and will look into these 2012 offerings as well.
M Eilts

Amy Elias, MS said...

As Hareesh shared, Tantrikas have so many varied, diversified ways to get to the HEART of the matter. If you don't get it one way, you get it another...As you so poignantly illustrated COURAGE comes in many packages...I love that when you are in the Truth of the present moment you SEE what is REAL and REVEALED and cn be best "in service."

carol said...

As always, it seems you are reading my mind- touching on a conversation about the method that i was recently having.

I am so looking forward to deepening my experience with you when TT begins in Athens!

I can't wait to hear what you and Noah are cooking up for mentoring...

laura-gee said...

This resonates with what I've always felt about Anusara yoga. Thank you for putting those feelings so eloquently into words. I want to share this post with all my CorePower Yoga teacher friends, hee! I am trying to patiently await my TT with Jeanie Manchester this Fall; this post makes it harder to be patient, but in a good way! Also, looking forward to your workshops in Boulder in August!

Dan said...

I am new to yoga (about 4 months)and have been brought in through the Anusara doorway. I'm not sure I would have come through other doorways as easily. The experiences of others you touch on in this post are, of course, their experiences. My experience is the other side of the coin.

I am curious about the steps being taken to allow Anusara to survive and thrive in a "post-John Friend" era. As a student of religion (professionally)I know that the transition from the visionary founder can sometimes be filled with challenges. Much depends upon how things are handled while the founder is still vital and active.
This is related to what you wrote about the balance of the personal voice of the instructor and the integrity of the method.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Christina Sell said...

this is an excellent question. I am part of a spiritual community and our teacher just passed so we are living into that question right now!

As far as Anusara Yoga goes, I love this question and will craft some thoughts on the topic soon and see if I can even get John to comment for us. (It never hurts to ask!)

(Although that is kind of a funny thing, huh?-- asking John to comment on a question about what are we going to do when John is not around to comment on things?!) Oh, the irony.

Thanks everyone, for chiming in. I love hearing from you all and seeing the full spectrum of our rainbow engaged.

Dan said...

Thanks Christina. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Adele Cassidy Yoga said...

Thanks Christina, so thought-provoking. There is a fine line between teaching Anusara and your own personal style. I'm having a lot of conversations at the moment along the lines of "am I doing it right?"

We all know why we love Anusara, we all know when the style is being represented in class but replicating it ourselves and viewing ourselves objectively, that's a whole other story. Practice huh?