Reflections on the Art of Teaching Yoga

Last weekend at this time, I was just concluding a workshop with Christina Sell on sequencing and using themes in the teaching of yoga. All week, I have been reflecting on some of her insights and the art of teaching in general.

Christina, a gifted certified Anusara Yoga teacher, was witty and inspirational at the same time, and just what I needed, as I face surgery next month, and a subsequent hiatus from teaching during the summer.

Every teacher finds him - or herself - fresh out of ideas, and perhaps needing to take a break at some point in time. And, in 14 years of teaching yoga, I have not taken a break of more than a couple of weeks, at the end of a session. So, while I focus on physical healing, I am hoping to also "reclaim" some inspiration, and come back "refreshed."

I have been having difficulty coming up with themes lately. Ironically, this has always been the easiest part of lesson planning for me! In fact, just today, someone wrote me asking me about a theme I used over a year ago in a class, and wondering if I could remember what else I said about it. Routinely, I run into students who were in classes I subbed, often over a year ago, that will recall a particular theme I used - word for word - things like: "Let go of holding on, and hold on to letting go," "Everything in God, and God in everything," "I am empty, I am full," "Life is practice, and practice is life," and so forth - but, right now, I am feeling, somewhat out of gas...

Re-reading my copious notes from last weekend's workshop, I was able to re-connect once again, with what draws, energizes, and inspires me about teaching in general, and yoga more specifically...

Christina's theme for our Friday night practice focused on yoga as a radical affirmation of life - where we say "Yes!" to everything we encounter. She noted that "yes" is the courageous acceptance of a situation we are in - in the here and now - completely and fearlessly. We must be radical in accepting all the parts of ourselves - what what is difficult, what we've discarded, and what is deep and beautiful within us.

Christina also spoke of teaching yoga as a very high calling that as teachers, we answer. And as such, we must be more careful about what we say, how we act, and even exercising more patience if that is not particularly natural for us. Yoga teachers for the most part, have chosen to shine more light into the world and to help people heal - physically, emotionally, and spiritually - and to remember their true nature and who they truly are. And in this context, it is important for teachers to draw upon each other and support one another in this endeavor - and I would add - even outside of their chosen style or tradition. So, while I primarily choose to study, practice, and teach Anusara Yoga, I do have friends who teach and practice other styles as well.

Christina went on to discuss the various kinds of students and teachers, and how they learn best, and what inspires them most. As teachers, we must be cognizant of our students, their various learning styles and needs, and yet also understand that we will never meet every student's needs. I was reminded of this very humbly this week, when a student dropped in a class and duly, but graciously noted, that that class was not for her.

The whole weekend with Christina, but especially her last session on the mechanics of good teaching, was so filled with insights. I loved the way she described the Anusara Yoga Syllabus and its three levels - not as poses we all had to master or attain - but as as poses that could each be approached as a peak pose, thus making an individual pose - and indeed, the entire syllabus much more accessible.

Because Christina is more of a technical teacher - more drawn to the bio-mechanics of how poses work and how they should be linked together, and I am more of a mystic and poet - more interested in how things are "languaged" and how they touch or inspire others, I was able to gain much greater insight into the art of teaching yoga from an entirely different perspective.

I consider it no accident, that I was able to attend this workshop, just at the time I needed it the most. During the lazy weeks ahead, after surgery, I hope to gather more nourishment from many of the gems of wisdom received...

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