Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Teaching How Teacher Teach...

If you've fallen down the yoga rabbit hole far enough (and if you haven't, you will; give it time), you've internalized the understanding that it isn't about the asanas.  It isn't about mimicking the cover of Yoga Journal, or executing the perfect upward facing dog.

We teachers talk till we're blue in the face working to convince newbs not to worry about what the poses look like in their bodies, but what they feel like, and eventually, we push them even deeper: what does the mind feel like while we're doing these shapes?  What about the rest of the time?  We practice a little Pranayama, sneak a few minutes of seated meditation into long classes, invite students to close their eyes, all to tempt them away from the primrose path of pushing their bodies to be stronger, more flexible, (and probably thinner, too); more capable of assuming a certain school of shapes as the final goal, in favor of something deeper.  Something MORE.  Like, happiness.

But, most of us will never stop doing asana no matter how into the philosophy and meditation we get, because asana is freaking amazing.  And while it is part of your practice to work with the same old familiar shapes over and over and be present and find peace in a space that may be boring, you're going to continue to build your practice and attempt more challenging asanas. You just are.

And, knowing that that is so, we yoga teachers can't be so excited about the other eight limbs that we forget about the one limb that we are in fact teaching right this second.   Doing a yoga pose wrong means you won't look like the cover of Yoga Journal.  That doesn't matter in the slightest.  Doing a yoga pose wrong also means you could be putting your body at risk of injury.  That matters a whole lot.

It is a movement practice.  We are teaching you to move.  So we'd better do it right, right?

Most new yoga students are impressed by the teacher that can do the most advanced and challenging poses, who has been practicing the longest.  Those considerations are legitimate.  The trainings are great, but experience is what teaches you the most.  On the other hand, consider what happens when you get really good at a physical practice, basketball, aerial silks, anything:

You forget how you do it.  It shifts from being a highly cognitive activity that taxes your brain pretty hard to perform to something that happens automatically in your body.  Have you ever tried to explain to someone how you do something that you know how to do that well?  It generally doesn't go well.

Which is not to say that you should only take classes from teachers who haven't been doing yoga that long.  That's not a good idea.

What I am saying is that being really good at the fancy bodywork that is yoga is not at all the same thing as being good at teaching other people do that fancy bodywork, and the nuts and bolts bodywork safely.  The only way to get a feel for how good a teacher is at teaching is to take a few classes with the prospective teacher.  And during the first few classes, it's even more important than it always is to pay close attention to the feedback your body is giving you, and to not remain in any shape that doesn't feel right.

Personally I like, and am, a teacher who isn't afraid to say "I don't know," usually followed with, "But I can look that up and e-mail you!"  You don't want a teacher bluffing out of fear of not looking professional. No one teacher can be an expert on everything, so don't write a teacher off or knock her or him down a spot on your list if she or he doesn't have the answer to your question at the ready.  Of course, if a pattern develops, or your gut tells you this is something a competent teacher should have down...basically if your gut tells you this is not the teacher for you for any reason, move on.

Hopefully this has given you a little insight into what makes a good teacher a good teacher, and a teacher who needs more time to develop, just that. I know, the more you learn the more complicated it gets...just like doing Downward Dog! This is the part where I remind you about my Halloween Dance Party Yoga Class at Bella Vita this Thursday at 1:00!  Come play with us!  The first five sign-ups get yogi-approved Halloween treats!
Live Omily,
~em

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