It’s been a long time since my glorious month at TT in Mexico which was in January of 2002. There we drank in prana, and spiritual advice was only as far as the next casita away.
Now I teach in Boston at health clubs. Away from the pure Integral Yoga setting, I have no immediate community to reinforce me. Instead, I am guided by the needs of the Yoga marketplace: My clubs ask that I teach a one hour class; I’ve had to make changes to the standard class to meet the demands of my students. Being out on my own has forced me to learn many difficult lessons. Some are joyful, some are humbling. I offer a summary here:
• Talking a lot isn’t the same as good teaching – In my enthusiasm, and insecurity, as a new teacher, I sometimes felt obliged to recite every possible correction, all the points of focus and the many benefits of the pose. I’d pour out a stream of verbiage that lasted the length of the posture. I now feel that endless coaching can be a distraction. That doesn’t mean that a well-timed reminder to return to one’s breath or square one’s shoulders isn’t in order, but silence gives the student time to focus on their internal teacher, rather than me. There is something divine in letting the class linger in quiet during a challenging pose.
• Look at the students when I’m teaching them – My students like me to demonstrate the poses and I find that working along with the class keeps me in touch with what they are experiencing in the pose. (To be honest, it also helps me to remember what’s next.) But when I’m doing the postures, I’m not watching the class. I’ve learned to bail out of a posture after I’ve demonstrated enough to get them into it. Now I can walk among the students, make suggestions and otherwise show I care about their Yoga practice. It makes a difference in the quality of their experience.
• Keep my own practice fresh and vital – I’ve taught as many as four classes a week, in addition to a full time job. When I’m spending that much of my free time teaching, it’s easy to neglect my own practice. I find that my class becomes stale and I forget what it’s like to be on the mat. I finally found a teacher that challenges me and allows me to pursue my spiritual practice via Yoga and that has made all the difference. It’s not an Integral Yoga class, but it is close enough for me to bring out the Integral Yoga spirit. It also reminds me of how it feels to struggle. Now when I teach, I’m awake and aware.
• A solid, but predictable, class is better than a spontaneous, but incomplete work-out – When I’ve taught the same group for months, it’s tempting to start to improvise, even in the middle of class. I find some variation keeps the students interested, but I’ve occasionally overdone it, diverting too far from the principles of a well-rounded class and ended up lost myself. Now I do my creative work before class, and make sure that every class includes a forward bend, a backward bend, a twist, a balancing pose and an inversion before coming to the final relaxation. Creativity is based on structure.
• Check my motivation for adding exotic poses to my class – Related to spontaneity I mention above was my desire to sometimes throw an off-beat posture or two into the mix. There’s nothing wrong with that on the face of it, but when I was honest with myself, I saw that there was an element of showing off: “Hey look at me, I know a lot of funky Yoga poses!” Now I think about the real value of bringing in an unusual pose before I do it.
• My tone of voice and attitude convey more than my words – I think more than half of Yoga is taught by voice. Students hear my words but they also hear how I’m saying them. When I want to elicit joy, I try to express real joy. I can feel the difference in how the class responds.On bad days, go back to basics – Recently, I was about to teach a Saturday morning class. I was feeling under the weather and for the first time ever, didn’t really feel like being there. I was uninspired, to say the least. Lacking any ideas for what to do, I resolved to simply teach a basic class, just like the one I taught to graduate from TT. Freed from having to think about the flow of the class, I hunkered down in the fundamentals. It worked. The quality of Integral Yoga is enough to carry me when I’m not all there. The class was solid and by the end, I was feeling much better too. It’s nice to know that will always be there for me.
• Tune into the weather – We all respond to the weather and it’s good to acknowledge that in class. I recently taught a class on a cold, rainy, gloomy Saturday morning. Taking a cue from nature, I slowed the class way down, explicitly telling the students that this class would be for cultivating a meditative spirit. We lingered in the postures. I spoke slowly and quietly. The class was intense in its own way and we left feeling at peace and perhaps at one with the weather.
• Ask my students if they are getting it – Six months into teaching I asked my regular crew of students what they thought was the most important thing to get out of the class.The answers were good, but not at all what I had hoped to convey as the ultimate reason for doing Yoga. It was an eye opener. Since then, I have worked to focus on my message, saying explicitly what we are moving towards. It’s helped me in thinking about how I structure my classes and I think it’s helped the students focus on the ultimate goal. At minimum, it helps them to understand why I teach what I teach.
There’s still much more I have to learn: I still feel very weak in giving corrections and making adjustments. I’m still not sure how much overt spirituality I should serve up to my classes of hip urbanites. I wonder if my tone is effective. Are my jokes really funny? Am I offering an appropriate balance of postures for overall health? I’ll be working on these issues and many others for years to come, I suspect. One thing I know is that my service as a teacher is a place to grow for a long, long time. Despite the hard lessons, or perhaps because of them, I love being a Yoga teacher.
Find out more about Integral Yoga Teacher Training.
(by Bob La Valee, from the November, 2003 IYTA Newsletter)