I saw one of my teachers recently whom I haven’t seen in a while and perhaps only a few times since TT. We had a great chat after the class he gave. He asked whether I was teaching and because he’s one of those quiet steady types with eyes that see right into you, I found myself suddenly telling him all the fears I have about what I’m doing. That although I do teach every week it’s only to a few people I already know, in my own home, rather than being a proper public class full of strangers. That simultaneously I feel this isn’t enough but also that I’m not equal to even this. That really I feel I have no idea what I’m actually trying to teach and that on the worst days I wonder if I even understand any more what yoga is.
He gently reassured me that it takes years to figure this stuff out. He made me laugh with keen empathy when he said that he routinely convinces himself he’s doing OK until he spends time with his teacher — and then boom! he realises how far there is still to travel… And it all begins again. Really? But he’s so accomplished and wise! I feel like an infant when I’m in his company or in company with any of my teachers. [If you listen closely you’ll hear me sighing here at the depth and beauty I perceive in the teaching they offer and a yearning that I could ever do this too in my own way…]
But he also wisely observed that it’s not in my nature to shovel out a formula, and that figuring it all out for oneself takes time and patience. It took me back to the comment my teacher made in TT: that anyone can call poses, that’s the easy part of being a yoga teacher. Of course at the time I laughed, finding even simple physical directions almost impossible to utter coherently. But even then I knew what he meant, that I hadn’t signed up to be some PT instructor. Whatever it is, Yoga is not PT.
So now the work is not only in refining my ability to call the poses (in itself a life’s work, I think) but also in figuring out how to turn the ‘formulae’ I have into real teaching. How do the classroom techniques, the basic sequencing principles, the philosophical knowledge and the life experience I have come together?
The answer is probably ‘slowly’. Right now it feels clumsy and my timing’s off. I have difficulty reading the bodies in front of me and understanding whether they’re comfortable and when I should offer something more verbally or physically to help them. I find it hard to move them enough to get their bodies good and warm without feeling like I’m driving them faster than they’re ready for. It’s difficult to offer a range of options to suit someone who has more years experience than I do as well as someone who’s just trying out yoga for the first time and has all the stiffness of a serious runner. And to do this compassionately so the beginner doesn’t feel demeaned and the long-timer doesn’t feel patronised. And then how to teach asana so that it’s an expression or exploration of something more than just a physical shape?
I could go on…
But now that I’ve started defining the issues like this, I can see why I feel I’m struggling! This is big stuff. I’m aiming very high.
So I tell myself like my own sadhana, I just have to show up — really show up with all the attention and care and curiosity that I can muster each time — and trust that that is enough. I don’t need to know all the answers, I just need to hear some of the questions.
And because I’m a practical girl at heart, as well as remembering to offer myself this big dose of empathy and self-care, I give myself teaching homework each week, reflecting on what went well/not so well and what I could do differently. I do some research, I practice stuff, I ask my teachers for help. And then I let it go, stop grasping after perfection, and vow to remain humble.