I have learnt five important lessons in my first week of teaching yoga. First and foremost though, I should be clear, I do not teach yoga, I learn yoga.
#1 I do not teach yoga, I learn yoga
Even when I stand in front of the room and I get to prescribe movements that demonstrate an Asana, I am not teaching. I simply look to the practitioners in class and read their movements back to them. All the cues I utter are reflections of what I am seeing in front of me, otherwise, would it not be redundant to say, go there, if you already are there.
I also do not like the word: teach. In the “banking concept of education” that we are used to, we tend to understand teachers as the providers of knowledge and students as the receptacles, teachers as the authority and students having none. In yoga physical practice, I do not have authority over people’s bodies and they certainly ought not to give that to me or anyone else for that matter. My role is to articulate in words the dialogue happening in the room and in so doing, I make it a point to cultivate amongst those present a sense of personal responsibility to the comfort and integrity of one’s body. After practicing this way for one week, here are a few more lessons I am contemplating as someone who is just new at this.
#2 You can never be too prepared for your first
You can never be too prepared for your first class but remember, there is no greater personal sense of satisfaction in overcoming fear and trepidation than on your first time. So, savour all the anxiety that you now officially share with everyone else who came before you. It is indeed a beautiful ritual if you think about it as a coming to a certain stage with like-minded friends on this path.
I had come to my first class with a particular sequence in mind that I had practised at home not realizing that the situation differs dramatically when I am not practising along with everyone else. For example, how long shall we stay in Virabhadrasana I or in Savasana? What if this Asana is not available to someone, do I have a modification for each Asana, let alone an alternative choice altogether? The sequence is coming to an end early because in my anxious state I spoke too fast, what more can I suggest? Why am I getting tired of hearing my voice for an hour and 20minutes?
I figured most of these questions by my second class but it sure made me feel quiet nervous and that came in the way of fully enjoying my time. I was simply afraid of the next moment that is about to arrive and reveal to everyone how much I wish I was more prepared for this.
#3 Words are all you have got is not a true statement
There are ways to create a dialogue about an Asana without utilizing words. Do not create undue pressure to eloquently, exactly and immediately find words to all imaginable twists and turns to the variety of bodies in front of you. An underutilized and strangely unfashionable alternative is the simple demonstration. Here is how I like to transition from Chaturanga Dandasana to Urdhva Mukha Svanasana.
You are not any worse to ask for people’s attention to turn to you as you demonstrate an Asana you did not plan to demonstrate. You do so simply because you are well aware that it is a better option than to freeze, interrupt the work going on and distract your guests with the high expectations you place on yourself, which you refuse and dread not meeting. This brings me nicely to lesson #4.
#4 It eventually stops being about you
Believe it or not, the learning curve is steep and you will eventually be it or you will be really good at performing it. You will have no more fears or anxiety about doing what you love doing. You will also figure out if you love doing it and what about it you do not love. If being in front of a class full of people who are genuinely interested in bettering themselves and their bodies, ends up being about you performing “great teacher”, then the joy will come to an end. You will be bored. So, the process of continually practising being in dialogue with others in a yoga class will eventually weed the committed from the aspirants. Do not fret; it will be good for you either way.
#5 You get so much out of giving
As you speak theory and watch the practitioners in the room move their bodies towards Asanas, you end up receiving so much information. What you think you know doubles and triples by the simple act of observation. You are learning from peers and you are inevitably conveying your observations to your own personal practice. What if I have super tight hamstrings, how can I experience Adho Mukha Svanasana without placing all my weight on my arms? What if I played too much soccer yesterday and today Supta Virasana is not available to me?
More importantly, the work of propagating good health and healing is so very rewarding to one’s journey in life. To be in dialogue about practising with compassion and bodily intelligence can be healing and inspirational. To describe the reclined fetal position as one that is ancient for us all; a place of love and security and a source of warmth is akin to receiving love, warmth and security then and there. Opening up your heart to the opportunity to speak of love and self care during Savasana can be equivalent to three psychoanalytical therapy sessions. To bring palms together in thanks and gratitude for being here and now is a gift to you from you.
George Bernard Shaw summed it up beautifully when he wrote:
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being a force of nature instead of feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making me happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and, as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.
I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.