2017 is my 7th year of professional teaching, my ninth year of daily practice after a lifetime of on and off yoga – join me for the third annual New Year’s Day class at YogaYoga in Newhall.
Armed with my freshly minted 200hr teacher training certificate I face the world. I’m eagerly expecting a band of healthy young people, the sinewy types featured in yoga mat ads. The kind of youths with naturally long limbs, ropey muscles, and a strong sense of balance. The kind who follow directions with grace and ease. My teachers at YogaWorks typically lead crowded classes of 50 students rarely stopping, never pausing. Calling out “Downward facing dog, Chaturanga, step forward, Warrior One,” while the plebs move in uniform waves. Looks so easy I test the waters. Before I open for business, I trial-teach on an indulgent friend. “Downward facing dog!” I command.
“What the hell is that?” He asks.
“No, no,” I chide him. “You’re not supposed to say that! You just look around at the person in front of you and do what they’re doing.” I impatiently explain, “Nobody ever asks ‘what the hell is that?'” I get my first feedback.
“That’s pretty fucked up.”
“Wait, what?” (I’d love to paint myself as more sensitive, more snap, more intuitively connected to my audience – but that would fail to underscore my point.) Two hundred hour teacher trainings are the minimum standard. Dare I say bare minimum? I’m market-ready to sub at YogaWorks for any of my favorite teachers. I’ve studied their styles, made note of their playlists. On the other hand I’m only marginally ready to teach a newcomer from scratch. Peter responds, bless his heart, “If I’m paying you to teach me yoga – you’re gonna teach me yoga. There’s no f n way I’m going to “look” at the person in front of me to figure out what to do.” So begins my brilliant career. Note to self: learn how to describe movement, action and posture.
Peter receives more instruction on adho mukha svanasana in one hour than I obtained in two-hundred hours.
Despite the rocky start, I realize I enjoy ‘splaining things. My inner history major likes research. Once I understand the “why,” I never forget the “how.” I prefer educating over telling people what to do. Barking out poses to people feels not just silly but marginally unethical. If that’s all I’m gonna do, maybe all I deserve is $10 a hour, but that is another subject. My point is, and I do have one, is that people can do yoga anywhere – don’t they come to a class to learn? Class ought to further knowledge. Yoga lessons shouldn’t rest in a shallow basin of repetition. Sessions should provide tools for deciphering increasingly complex asana.
My second volunteer “Peter” receives well-articulated downward dog prompts. Peter II drawls “That ain’t happening.”
“What ‘ain’t’?” I ask curiously.
“That,” he says pointing to my arms. “I can’t raise my arms that high since I broke my shoulders in a bike accident.” Oops. (Of all the people in all the world I’m so lucky that my very second student has crazy specific limitations?) Lesson one in my brilliant career: learning to articulate instructions to the average student. Lesson two? Students are individuals. How did my basic training prepare me? I’m taught to open with a clear, warm, friendly voice, to ask “Does anyone have an injury?” I’m told to approach student (for privacy), squat down (get to eye level), and ask the client to describe her injury (i.e. act concerned.) My inner risk manager chafes against this sage advice. I don’t play doctor.
I’m taught to tell students to “honor” their limitations.
Honor? Visions of Buddhist stupas dance in my head. I regard my own persistent pain with interest, she’s a part of me that’s for sure. She’s a part of me, not a goddess. Instead of treating injury as an idol to be worshipped, preserved and awed – at that fateful moment with Peter II I decide to treat his body as him. His limitations are no problem; his limitations are him. Who is he? He’s definitely strong, intelligent and badass. I like having badass clientele. You know the kind who’ve had injuries have had exciting lives. His weirdly knit shoulders are not to be skirted, ignored like an elephant in the living room – they represent the tissue I’ve been hired to teach.
Teaching individuals requires the synthesis of intellect and emotion and is far more rewarding than cookie cutter style.
About a year before my first 200hr yoga school I have my own wake-up call. My red flag event? An uninsured traumatic injury to my hip. This ends my young life. My new normal ages me. I’m jacked with persistent pain. A certain kind of person might say “What a shame.” I would say, “Not a shame so much as an indicator.” My injury doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s an marker. An gauge of my degeneration. Breaking my hip indexes my rigidity. My loss of my ability to adapt to the process of falling. Seriously. I must have been too rigid to twist or too depressed to be aware of my circumstances. Or both. This much I know, it’s the proverbial straw that breaks a very fragile camel’s back. Out the window go my spiritual beliefs. Prayer can not save me. I can no longer accept that “God never gives me more than I can handle.” There are certainly no gifts in being sick, only aftereffects.
I put myself back together again.
The AMA would see my pain as a “body” problem; one solved with pain “killers.” I say that ironically because analgesics make people more sensitive, not less. The answer science holds is unacceptable to me. I don’t want to become increasingly dependent on pharmaceuticals. I have no interest in invasive surgery if I can avoid one. What does religion posit? Prayer, meditation, taking my mind off my problem – re-focusing on an the afterlife. Whether I believe in reincarnation or heaven and hell – the answer they have for me lies on the other side of the horizon. Neither religion nor science addresses the reality of a unified person. I use my somatic awareness to heal my body.
The body NOT as a machine.
As I mention in previous blogs, the body need not be treated like a machine that needs new parts. Unlike a machine the body is self-aware. People are sentient bodies. I can use my awareness to make better choices as soon as I become aware of what my choices are. In this manner advanced practitioners move more skillfully than beginners. They don’t squirm, they streamline movement to effective essentials. Yoga is a healing modality. Posture itself inhibits or expands mood. Breathing effects emotions. Thoughts generate reflexes, subconscious and conscious.
Yoga is potent to the max when users exploit the fullness of mind/body oneness and ditch the schism.
The next step in my brilliant career? Multi-student classes. The great wave. Humanity moving en masse. Unfortunately even when everyone follows the directions on cue, I see dangerously bad versions of the ancient asana. I can’t help myself. I stop class to instruct or explain. To remonstrate. I’m thinking these poor people need me. They’re on their way to repetitive stress injuries. Not everyone agrees. oops. Feedback ensues. I’m certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. But I am a reliable employee. I show up on time, appropriately dressed and I’m willing to sub at the drop of a hat – the studio keeps me on schedule. The rest is history, (or her-story, you be the judge)
“It is a sacred business we’re about. It has been a gift growing old while teaching, and learning, and I’m glad I decided to teach instead of getting a job.” Darlene Z. McCampbell
Now y’all play nice!