Before class last night one of the other students asked me if I was teaching at all yet. Yes, I am a little. But she wasn’t satisfied. “When are you going to teach more? And are you going to do another training course soon?” Woah, slow down! Why can’t it be enough right now? Last week was a really intense teaching experience for me handling the emotional reactions of my two (yes, just two…!) students to my teaching. And this week too offered significant new experiences to me.
My little class this week didn’t go at all as planned. For a start it was going to include a third person for the first time, but she pulled out at the last minute. No problem, minor adjustments in my head about how this was going to play and we’re good to go. And then part way through the standing sequences one of them complains of pain in her leg. She’d told me she turned her ankle earlier in the week, so I was a bit nervous of what she might now be reporting to me. So I stopped the flow suggested we look at her in that pose and find out what she was experiencing. It was Utthita Parśvakoṇāsana. A bit more questioning and the pain in the leg turned out to be nothing more than some straining in the front thigh, so we ended up having a great time considering the structure of this pose with a bit of discourse on the importance of breathing, feeling inner alignment, and why I don’t demonstrate the poses throughout class.
They looked at me with scarily spellbound faces as I demonstrated various points of alignment in the pose and in the transition, and various degrees of physical depth. “It’s OK for you, you make it look so easy,” one of them commented. I’m sure my own teacher would have found this hilarious since I told him recently this is a pose I’m working really consciously on, exploring my own mental and physical limitations, seeking the elusive sense of sukha which always seems just one more breath away… Even as I’m surrounded by other students taking fancy binds and what-not, I’m still figuring out whether a block under the front hand is helping or hindering. It’s OK, that’s what I need to explore. My front foot-arch, front hip, back foot, shoulders and neck all tell me this is where I need to explore! And bingo, I suddenly find that this exploration of mine means I am more than able to help my students and open up new understanding for them. The inadequacy I feel as a student matters not at all. It probably actually helps.
So I asked them after class for their thoughts: did they want this kind of breakdown more often? They’d looked so interested and we’re a small group so the possibilities are endless. “Maybe, whenever I thought it would be helpful,” was their response. Overall I think I am right to assume they want classes that flow and carry them away from their office jobs. Then one of them said she did have one bit of feedback for me. Uh, oh! And it was this: “Don’t change anything!” They said they loved the physical space (half my lounge turned yoga studio for the night by removing the dining table is obviously good enough!), they loved the intention-setting and words I offer at the start, they loved the flowing sequence. They even loved my playlist, not knowing it receives much amused criticism from Hubby when he’s forced to listen as I check the overall congruity of the tracks! And, most movingly for me, I found, they said they loved it when I put my hands on them to assist them in poses. One of them said I take her places she didn’t know were possible! That’s pretty big stuff for this new teacher to hear. And it’s certainly not because I offer strong assists; I know that I’m not experienced enough for that.
So right now small and modest though it is, my teaching seems quite enough of an experience. Stepping up to be a teacher is not something I do lightly. It’s every bit a conscious placement as any vinyasa movement, requiring the same cultivation of steadiness and ease! I feel I owe it to my teachers and to the tradition to show some respect and humility in what I offer, not pushing too far too fast. While I’m feeling intense joy right now at all the blessings yoga seems to offer (even when they’re disguised as difficulties!), I’m also feeling seriously humbled and aware of my limitations. I could easily feel daunted and get stuck. I’m choosing instead to keep moving and keep on doing it. But as I learn in āsana practice, movement can be subtle — it’s not all about getting to the next significant place. More is a relative concept