I’ve been thinking a bit recently about teachers and classes, wondering what makes a good class experience and what the role of a teacher is in that. I’m coming at this from a couple of angles, so brace yourself for more posts as I work through some thoughts over the coming months — and do please chip in with any comments: this is all such new stuff to me and I love to hear your opinions and experiences.
The question of teacher training won’t entirely leave me (though at the moment I’m putting my hands over my ears and singing ‘la la la’ hoping to drown the voices out for a while longer while I focus on my own practice). So that’s one angle. And the other angle is that at the moment I’m having a bit of a love-hate relationship with classes, and am trying to figure out what class offers vs. home practice, and how I achieve the balance that works for me.
My regular teacher is back from some travels (hooray!) and I went to his class yesterday for the first time in a couple of weeks. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but distance adds a certain perspective also (see? I really am in two minds about all this!).
It took a supreme effort to get there. I left work early so I could have a snack and a snooze at home beforehand. I really needed both forms of nourishment. And I was still yawning and dopey-feeling when I got to the studio. At the start I honestly thought I might have to rest through most of the class. My muscles are still pretty sore and energy levels not back to my normal. But actually I was carried through by the energy of the room and ended up participating happily in most of the sequences. Although I rested through the final round of standing poses and kept things really gentle in the prone backbends and seated forward folds, I totally surprised myself by my attempts with eka pada koundinyasana! Savasana was more a physical collapse than a letting go, but that’s OK. And actually I felt so rested and peaceful as I sat afterwards that I only belatedly realised the next class had come in and surrounded me. I almost ended up doing back to back classes!
So where did this energy in the room come from? How was it generated and maintained through an hour and a half of strong flowing poses? And in the midst of that how was it also OK for me to take rest and stay easy when I needed to? I think it’s pretty amazing to have such a strong atmosphere within me, within the room, and coming from the teacher that all of this became possible within the same space. For me this is some part of the magic of yoga — the coming together and the sharing of practice while all still having unique experiences within that.
On this creation of atmosphere I read an interesting interview with Donna Farhi on teaching, where she focused on the role of the teacher in holding space for the student to learn for themselves: “I believe that ultimately what is shared is the modelling of the teacher being completely authentic within themselves and present within the moment.” I think this ‘presence’ is so important. Talking with a fellow yogini after class the other day, we agreed that the ultimate quality difference between teachers was the ones who adeptly talked through a sequence but remained detached from the practice compared to the one or two who were totally present with their students, in control yet themselves also part of the flow, more engaged, more energetic somehow. Energetic in the sense of enthusiasm and passion as well as some more nebulous conductivity thing. I know, I know, woo woo stuff! Hard to describe, but like good art you know it when you see it.
image credit: http://psi.wikia.com/wiki/Psi_ball