Monday, July 18, 2011

There is no Just in Yoga

I had a great time this weekend with the awesome and wise Becky Klett at The Denton Yoga Center. Becky is a certified teacher, a great person and a wonderful teacher. She is one of those certified teachers who serves with great dedication, humility and clarity. She is honest, self-refelctive and not only enjoys the respect of her students but has the respect of her peers and colleagues as well. (I know this because when any of my friends found out I was going to Denton they all said things like "I love Becky" or "Tell Becky Hello" or "Becky is awesome." The students who assembled were really great as well. We had an excellent turnout for every class and the energy throughout the weekend was upbeat, directed, challenging and fun.

One of the things I like most about my job these days is the diversity of it. Sure, on one level, its all "teaching yoga" but teaching yoga for me includes curriculum design, class planning, marketing, mediation, community planning, mentoring others, advising others, teaching workshops, teaching classes, leading practices, teaching immersions and teacher trainings- each of which has a different flavor and focus. My job involves a lot of writing, a lot of networking, planning and meetings. Actually teaching a yoga class is a very small protion of what is involved in my work, come to think about it.

So, it is always fun for me to teach weekend workshops because as much as I love and believe in the Immersion Process and as much as I enjoy the conversation of Teacher Training, teaching a workshop to a roomful of people from various backgrounds and ages and with varying abilities is a really fun thing and is usually kind of a relief since there is "just the asana" to focus on.

One time I was in a training with Patricia Walden and she had me demonstrating a back bend. I was on my back waiting for her to give me instructions and I looked at her and said, "Just go up?"

Very sweetly yet sternly, she looked at me and answered, "Come on, now...there is no just in yoga."

It is a teaching that has stayed with me a lot. There is no just in yoga. What there is, or what we are moving toward is a state of deep awareness, of mindful, intentional action and the conscious embodiment of Grace. How we practice involves invoking those qualities and working within a context of ever-deepening penetration and so truly, there is no just.

So to say, "There is just the asana to focus on in a weekend workshop" is a bit misleading and inaccurate, of course. I mean there is no big philosophy curriculum to present, there is no teacher training curriculum to get through, etc.

But this issue of just came up in a conversation I had with Becky. We talk about what a wonderful and interesting thing it is to teach yoga. On one level, when we teach yoga, we are basically exercise teachers and the yoga class is basically an exercise class with a positive message. Some even say perhaps we are just "stretching in Sanskrit." However, on another level, the yoga teacher often finds themselves in the middle of a much deeper and more meaningful pursuit than "just the asana" and their students begin to engage the process of yoga practice at a deeper level than the just surface activity of stretching in Sanskrit and then we are catapulted together into a much bigger conversation than simply "place your hand here, flex your foot that way and stretch your side ribs this way." The task of teaching yoga is both ordinary and extraordinary. It is both no big deal and a very big deal.

And it is not the same for everyone, nor should it be. Not every teacher is the same and not every student is the same and that is as it should be. We all want and need different things and are different stages of maturation, attainment, growth and skill. Different does not mean better or worse but I am not someone who thinks Ultimate Oneness means "its all the same" and "its all good". Not by a long shot.

I was introduced to yoga by senior teachers and practitioners. I have never had casual yoga teacher ever. I have always studied with people whose expertise and experience far eclipsed mine and so this informs my perspective on studentship and teaching, to be sure. I remember giving a talk on Studentship in Teacher Training one time and I was talking about how, as students, when we are in someone's class we should follow their instructions and even if we normally do something one way, we should do it the way the teacher is asking when we are in their class. One of the trainees raised their hands and asked me, "But what if the teacher says to do something you know is unsafe?"

I remember not even understanding the question at the time. It was not until later that evening when I went home and was reflecting on the exchange that I realized that that had never happened to me. I had never had a teacher tell me to do something I knew was unsafe. (Since that time I have visited so many more public classes that this no longer holds true but I didn't learn yoga in public classes with beginning teachers. I went to workshops with Senior teachers and practiced at home and read books and still I spend more time in personal practice than I do in classes or workshops.) And from the beginning, I have only had teachers who knew more than me. And the teachers I studied with were not casual, they were not beginners and for them there was no just in yoga.

Becky and I talked about how serious we can all get as yoga teachers and how big it can seem at times and how occasionally we talk ourselves down a bit and remind ourselves "this is just yoga" and then we get a letter from a student or we have a conversation with someone whose life is shifting in deep and meaningful ways through the practice and we are made aware, once again, of the profundity of what it means to teach yoga and serve others in any capacity. And then teaching yoga is a big deal again.

I suppose like so many things, teaching yoga is both a big deal and not a big deal. And so much of what a yoga class is to anyone is not in the class itself but in the way they, as a student, approach it. At the heart of the transformational power of studentship is really the student and not the class and not the teacher. Lee used to say that a good student could wake up around a bad teacher faster than a casual student could wake up around a good teacher. He thought the responsibility of the student was that important.

Prashant Iyengar had a pretty good rant about this as well in a class in Pune. He said, "All of you are convinced that you need the best teacher in the world... Have you ever asked yourself if you are the best student in the world?!"

Anyway- we had great students in the room this weekend. Kind, funny, hard working, dedicated and I was held in such grace and support all weekend long.

Onward- things to do...


USCJan said...

In a class with Stacey we discussed the impact on the word "just" with students, which implies simplicity or ease; "just do it like this" isn't universal. Yoga is a challenging and layered practice. I've tried to avoid these references in my instruction. This is a great entry on the big picture of just :) tks!

Mado said...

Love it! I was just reading and contemplating "Exquisite Love" by Bill Mahoney, and on page 63, he discusses the way that every single action we take must be made sacred and important. My understanding is that invites us to make an offering to the divine out of the most mundane actions in our lives. There are no throw away actions, there is no "just".

Thank you for your offerings through this blog and your teaching. I've been watching your classes on yogaglo. If you ever have time, I have a blog/offering of my own that you might find interesting: