Saturday, April 26, 2014

Teaching Without the Protection of Warriors

In a recent blog post, I talked about my yogi toning class at Bella Vita. Today I want to talk about my aerial yoga class at Om Factory. Today was the first yoga class in which I did not teach Warrior I, Warrior II, and Reverse Warrior. As a born and bred vinyasa instructor, this is a big deal. The Warrior poses are kind of the meat and potatoes of most vinyasa-based classes. In four years of teaching countless classes at countless studios, I have never, ever, ever, not taught those three poses before.

There was no dramatic decision to abandon these foundational poses. I've had those dramatic decisions: the day I left my notes outside of the classroom and let the energy of the room guide the sequences for the day, the day I stopped stalling for a few extra breaths for my own sake in seated meditation before beginning the asana practice, both decisions I've never went back on. But this wasn't like that.

I had thirteen students, ten of whom had never done aerial yoga before, and I just...didn't get to those poses. I had other goals: getting them into as many different relationships with the fabric as possible before the hour was up, letting them have fun and be silly without letting the giggles and side comments sweep away my authority over the class, making sure everyone was safe and learning with strong alignment, and dealing with the inevitable, "This HURTS!" (The answer to that one is, 'Yes, I know', 'You can stop doing it...', and, 'Blankets, all around!')

I think I already knew on some level that the mini warrior sequence I snuck into my aerial yoga classes was paying homage to my own tradition more than it was actually serving my students, but it wasn't until today, when I abandoned it so readily, that I really confronted that fact. I mean, it is called aerial vinyasa. It's, in theory, a vinyasa class with an added prop...but in practice, it's its own unique animal. The hammock will drag you away from your center if you let it, and in the bigger picture, it drags the whole practice away from its roots if you let it! And, surprisingly, I'm inclined to let it!

Because Vinyasa is one school of Asana, not the end all, be all. Because yoga is the science of happiness, not a sequence of warrior poses that help to articulate the entire body much more successfully without a hammock than with it. That hammock forces you to find your center: the physical center of your body, your core, the seat of your strength, to keep from being dragged into unsafe stretches and precarious positions; and your center: the still, quiet place from whence you can evaluate challenges and decide if the fear you're feeling is something to be pushed back against, or something to yield to. There is no room for ego in an aerial yoga room, and that makes it a harsh teacher of YOGA, whether it's clearing up vinyasa poses for you or not.

That said, it's pretty effective at clearing up vinyasa poses, too. By offering support in one form or another, the fabric allows you to focus more attentively on a different aspect of the shape. By shifting the support around, you can come to a deeper understanding of every aspect of a given pose. My first aerial yoga class was a tree pose class: we explored tree on the ground, and in a variety of support variations with the help of the fabric, and then we did this crazy no-hands flying tree in the hammock which blew a few minds, and was promptly retired. For now.

There are many effective teachers of yoga, and, actually, you can leave Asana out of it all together if you're feeling like a meditation badass. It's a lot harder to still the mind without the effects of body movement to pave the way!

Those steadfast warrior poses were some of the first ones I learned to teach, and some of the first ones I felt deeply confident teaching. Now that I've learned that I don't need them, I feel like I've graduated to a new level of yoga-teaching proficiency.

If you'd like to try a (potentially warrior-free) aerial yoga class with me, I'm subbing up a storm this month at Om Factory. Just look for Emily Hursh on the schedule.
Live Omily,

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