Friday, December 21, 2012

Not Always Personal

Well, I am enjoying a bit of time at home to catch my breath, connect with my friends and family and to make plans for the upcoming year of travel and teaching. I have lots on my mind these days and as is natural during this time of year, I am spending some time in reflection and contemplation about what the year has brought, what I have done with what came my way, what I want to release and leave behind and what lessons I want to move forward with into a new cycle.

I was in a Bikram yoga class the other day and reflecting how the community of practitioners at PURE Bikram yoga held a space for me in this last year and a half that was really profound. Having a place to go to to learn, to practice, to be quiet, to sweat and to listen to myself in the midst of so many other changes and upheavals was  nothing short of profound. It's an interesting thing because I think the staff, teachers and students at those studios were simply -albeit skillfully and professionally- doing their job. On a very real level it was not personal at all and it had nothing to do with me.  Those folks are well-trained, dedicated and good at what they do and  they were doing it before I came around and they will be doing it if I stop coming.

So having said that on one level it was not at all personal, my experience of being part of their community has been deeply personal and tremendously beneficial. As a teacher this gives me a lot to think about.  Being a student, it seems, is both a personal and an impersonal experience. As is being a teacher. For instance, I have had the great fortune lately to receive some letters and notes from folks in some of my recent trainings who articulated how they grew and how they benefitted from their participation in the programs I have offered.  One of the coolest things about these letters is that the students reported "getting" exactly what I would hope anyone would get from these trainings. And in those very same trainings, other people were disappointed by me, by the curriculum, by the group, etc.  The very same program landed differently on different people.

Maybe Bikram yoga is the perfect metaphor for this because I am not sure if any method has such strong feelings associated with it. Rarely do I run across someone who is like, "Oh, yeah, that. It's okay." People seem to love it or hate it. They get it or they don't. Maybe because it, as a system, so squarely lives in itself it becomes the perfect screen upon which to project personal observations and feelings. I mean, it is not going to change- same heat, same humidity, same script, same poses, and so its very easy to like it or hate it since it is  holding so steady. Other classes change a lot so you may like what the teacher  does on Monday and not on Tuesday and think the sequence was great on wednesday but hate the music on thursday and so on and so on. But at any rate, my point is that the very same offering- no matter what it is-- is not going to land in the same way for everybody.

I talk to a lot of yoga teachers over the course of my days and our conversation vary from the frustrations regarding finances, competition in the market place, the challenges of teaching alignment in flow-based studios as well as the challenges of getting people to move in alignment-based studios. We talk about the joys of witnessing growth and transformation and we suffer our shortcomings in skills, knowledge and capacity when we fall short of the challenges the transformational path presents us as practitioners, students and teachers.  Different teachers respond to these challenges differently, make different choices about how to teach, where they see their responsibilities and even about what our role is as teachers these days.  Yoga teachers seem to place themselves on a continuum from PE teacher to life coach to therapist to spiritual counselor to motivational speaker to spiritual guide and even to guru. There is no single role we fill and no single need we attempt to meet.  The industry doesn't decide for us and it is up to us to carve our way in all of it, it seems. But anyway--

As I was lying there in a tired, sweaty heap in the Bikram class I somehow took a bit of refuge in this "it is not really personal" idea. Because the truth is we just do not always know--good and bad-- how our offering is landing. I mean in the case of me and the Bikram folks, you know, well, it's me and I have a blog and a big mouth and I write a lot about my inner experience so maybe they do have an idea that they have really helped me a lot this year. But my guess is that in a lot of cases, we just do not always know. People may be coming to our classes, getting a ton of benefit in ways we can not imagine and we may never know. And I know that the opposite is true- we may make off-the cuff remarks that cause harm and hurt other people and never really know. (And many times we get great letters of praise and many times we get letters expressing upset and disappointment. So sometimes, we do know.)

So to be clear, since this is a hot topic these days,  when I say it is not really personal, I am not excusing the ways we sometimes miss and fuck it all up as teachers. I am just saying, there is an impersonal element going on also. As a teacher, I have a calling to teach. I want to do my best to serve that calling and to teach the yoga as I understand it and personally, I happiest when I am anchored in that remembrance as the intention for my teaching work. Some people like the way I teach. Some people hate it. I am very clear about that- I am a bit of an acquired taste as a teacher, truth be told. Always have been, probably is not going to change now. But my point is that it is a beautiful thing when the way I  teach lands for someone in a way they can  make use of it to deepen their own practice, their own path and their own unfolding. And it is a great blessing when, as a student, I can make use of what a teacher is offering in their truth.

I suppose I never get tired of exploring the student-teacher relationship and the layers of responsibility in each. More could be said but I am going to see Kelly now for an acupuncture treatment in his new office.


Kassandra said...

Wonderful, as usual, Christina! This reminds me of a phrase that has been a bit of a mantra for me this year: "What other people think of me is none of my business." As a person, and a yoga teacher, of course it's not always so cut and dry, but it's important to realize everyone has their own thing going on and our best course is to be our authentic self and let other people take of it what they will.

TBA said...

I teach too. Only about 2 years now, but I feel like I learned a great lesson that you touch on here. When we put 100% of our heart, mind and effort into something that is a mix of what resonates with our own personal experiences and strong beliefs...that glob of teaching energy is 100% true to us. And hey, not everyone will get it, maybe some will love it, but we cannot hold on to the reactions. If they love us, great, if they hate us, listen and decide if you need to tweak, if they don't like then let them go! Thats the beauty of freedom. An introspective teacher will take all feedback and channel it into becoming truer to self and helpful to more. (as long as it doesnt change them too much)

I really sincerely desire a more open communication between teachers and students in class and after so we can continue to grow---us/students/the discipline/the world. Why cant we try to do this? I know I will.

Anne-Marie Schultz said...

I'm reminded of that great BKS Iyengar quote about treating every student as a gift from god, an occasion to practice (the art). On the one hand, it sounds like an injunction to be deeply personal but on the other hand, not.

Unknown said...

I love your authenticity. May I follow your lead. You are brilliant :)

Unknown said...

I always enjoy reading your blogs. They help take me deeper into my own self. Into my own understanding of what is.
You and your teachings have helped me so much this year. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Here's to seeing you in the new year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!