Thursday, August 25, 2011

Well, this has been a very long stretch without a blog entry. I have been busy but also without a lot of time alone to sit down and write.
I have been up in colorado since Friday and camping since Sunday. 
Friday night we had a wonderful book signing event in Boulder that Jeanie Manchester helped me organize. We had a lovely turnout with folks from all over Colorado. I taught a strong flow class with a theme of devotion- fun flows, arm balances and good strong work. Some of the students from higher elevations told me it was the first time they have  sweated in an Anusara  yoga class! Of course, that made me laugh. A lot. To be fair, they live at like 10,000 ft above sea level where it is never hot or humid!
Over the weekend Jeanie and I co-taught some group practices which was fun. I had never taught  with her before and so it was a good chance to see what she has been up to in her teaching and to connect with the Colorado gang, many of whom I know from workshops I have taught in other places and many of whom I met for the first time. We had a good strong back bend day on Saturday and a hip-opening arm balancing day on Sunday. Jeanie and I have very different teaching styles and from what I could tell the students enjoyed the practices and seemed to benefit a lot from the different presentations we offered.
After the session on Sunday Kelly and I had a jyotish astrology reading with Dr. Katy Poole, who Jeanie recommended to us. (the two of them are doing a retreat soon, so check that out- yoga and jyotish. Yum!) it was a fantastic reading for me, full of great inspiring insight as well as a good healthy dose of "tough love" relative to my dharma. ("Get on with it- stop playing it safe, tell the truth and stop pretending to be someone you are not! Your guru gave you a job to do, now do it." So kinda like that.) I highly recommend her and her work. She is smart, passionate, authentic, and down-to -earth while, without a doubt, dedicated to the Highest Possibility in each of us.
Before the time in Boulder I had three very full days of teaching the course "Teaching to the Raw Beginner" at Yoga Oasis. It was an amazing experience for me for so many reasons. I have never been to a training on the topic nor have I ever taught a workshop like this before and so it was truly uncharted territory. I have taught plenty of Teacher Trainings and I have taught plenty of raw beginners how to do yoga but putting it together was new.
One thing I really enjoyed a lot was having a chance to talk very frankly about teaching yoga and the challenges and realities of teaching public yoga classes. So many of the challenges I have faced as a teacher- both internally and in the classroom- have done so much to shape my ideas about teaching and have helped me hone my skills and refine my personality traits over the years. And the funny thing is that very few of all of the challenges I have encountered were ever mentioned in the teacher trainings that I have been to. So it was fun to actually speak directly to the heart of our challenges and to share the insight I have after 12 years or so of mistakes!

I am more convinced than ever that being an effective teacher is about three primary domains- I called them The 3 C's of Teaching in the training: Context, Content and Conversation.
Context refers to the aim we have as teacher, both in the larger sense of our own dharma and in the immediate sense of what aim we have for the class we are teaching that particular day. Content is actually the "stuff" we teach like poses, principles, sequencing, etc. And Conversation is about the way we present it- the words we use, the tone and tenor of our presentation and our relationship with the students. It seems that the more these domains are in a healthy balance, the better the teaching. 
Context is super key because it is our vision, our darshan as teachers. If we are clear on what we want to offer students- both in the big picture and in the immediate sense of the class we are teaching, then we can know how to aim our efforts. If we are unclear, then we may have great sequences, and great tips about the poses but we will be less likely to really meet our aim if we do not know what we are trying to accomplish. Furthermore, we will not be as able to assess our efforts and our efficacy as teachers because we won't know what to evaluate ourselves on. For instance, if I want to provide a nurturing atmosphere and I am clear on that aim, it will determine a lot of how I will proceed in class. Those of you who know me, know that I am rarely aiming that way- I am generally going for focus, determined strong work and courageously devoted effort so my teaching style isn't soft. (but if you want to see nurturing Christina, download this class on yogaglo- it's an awesome example of me aiming  at gentle and nurturing and, if I do say so myself, hitting the mark pretty darn well!)
This idea really hit home for me recently as I listened to a colleague of mine talk about how, in the opening 10-15 minutes of class, she wants people to feel at ease and so she give spacious, movement cues that are not very detailed or alignment-oriented. She feels that too much alignment instruction right up front makes people contract and worry too much about doing it "right" or "wrong".
I got to thinking about how I am the exact opposite way when I teach.  I cue my basic alignment actions in the initial centering and don't stop until savasana. I want people focused from the git-go and I give them very little room to explore or think for themselves initially. I have found that I have better success at actually helping people get  into hard poses when they are on my train from word one.
So both my colleague and I teach effective Anusara Yoga and both of us have well- attended classes and both of us train skilled teachers. However,  the "content" of our teaching is different as is the "conversation" because she is aiming at facilitating ease and I am aiming at facilitating  focus.
Anyway, we had a great group of new and experienced teachers. I learned a lot from them and got some great feedback about what to keep in the course, how to improve it and how to streamline the presentation. I am sure I will offer it again so stay tuned for details on that.
The week before the Raw Beginners course, Darren and I taught what I think was our best ever Part One Teacher Training. It was the most streamlined, simplified, accessible and concise training he and I have ever taught together.  We overhauled the curriculum and made changes to the way we presented it and it was super effective. 
One thing I am noticing in the process of training teachers over the years is that students are coming to our programs with less  teaching experience than in previous years and people are learning to teach much earlier into their yoga life than they used to. For instance, I  did yoga for 7 years before teaching. By the time I learned to teach I had been a student for many years and had seen a zillion modifications for poses in class and so I didn't need that as much from TT, I had learned it in classes. And, as far as Anusara methodology goes, an experienced teacher can be taught how to teach the UPAs right away but a new teacher needs to learn how to teach the poses and how to teach what I call  "good basic yoga" before they learn how to teach "Anusara yoga". 
Of course, some of that is a false distinction as "good Anusara" and "good yoga" are not entirely different animals but thatis a story for another day! At any rate, we revamped the curriculum to spend Part One TT  more on "teaching good basic yoga" and we had great success. The students were challenged in a realistic way without  being overwhelmed. I swear if we can just get people into and out of the poses efficiently and with accurate instructions, we will elevate the way yoga is being taught and practiced world-wide.
Of course, we had lively and  interesting discussions on other topics for sure and I will be exploring some of those themes in the next few weeks. All in all, it was an amazing few weeks for me. I enjoyed the work and I enjoyed taking some time to retreat to the mountains. I was unplugged for five days with no Facebook, Twitter, email, blog, phone or text messages and it was awesome. I actually felt my consciousness shift considerably away from Facebook Mind and into a much more profound current. Something about nature and her rhythms....
More soon.


kwajnman said...

I am hoping that 'more soon' means that you will elaborate on what you say about first having to learn to teach good basic yoga before you can teach Anusara....
...and I am with you on keeping people focused from the beginning. It is virtually impossible in my experience to haul attention in if it hasn't been established from the start. And the more tools I have to keep focus the better my teaching is.

USCJan said...

I hope you all will offer the raw beginner class again!