“You don’t teach yoga. You teach who you are.”
That was the quote written on the whiteboard when I walked into the studio for the first evening of Yoga Teacher Training at Yoga Pura in Phoenix, Arizona. Yesterday, I delivered my first-ever yoga class. It was supposed to be a 45 minute-long series of poses, and was suggested that we “do what we’re comfortable with, plus 10%”. Despite my years of experience with teaching in general, I was nervous. I did manage to start and end the session with OM, which was a little weird to do when I’m the one initiating it. There was a lot of positive feedback. It was a group of about eleven, and though the sequence was for beginners, these were all students well-versed in the poses. Many wanted to know how long I’ve been teaching, where I had a job, and were shocked when I reported that this was my first yoga class, though I’d been in the classroom for 19 years. I thought about it later, and realized no matter what environment I’m in, an arena giving a riding lesson, in a classroom with students or teachers, at a kitchen table with a tutor student, in a room with strangers at a conference, on the phone talking a friend through a personal issue or education-related material, or in a yoga studio, I teach.
The past few years, I’ve tried to move from the classroom to something else, anything else on some days! I spent some time breaking away from, “If I’m not a teacher, then what am I?” In our society, we often label people, and once we do, that is all they are allowed to be. Crippled, old, a mother, a doctor, a drunk driver, an ex-con. I changed how I introduce who I am when at a gathering, from “I’m a teacher”, to “I teach at PV, and work with kids who are learning disabled or emotionally disturbed (I know, it labels the kids, but that is the only way for them to get the services needed to aid in their success).” This way, I’m defining how I spend my day, not boxing myself in as “a teacher”. Truthfully, I stumble over “I’m a writer”, and prefer to say, “I write romance novels, sometimes poems, because it is fun for me, and I’m pushed to do it.” I’m not just a teacher, or just a writer. No one is “just” anything. We’re all a conglomerate of our experiences, preferences, and innate talents and abilities.
When I’m working with students in my classroom or tutoring, I teach from where I am at that moment. My experiences, what I believe the students need to further their understanding, and how we can both work towards the same outcome help me to define “where I am”. I’m the first one to say that I don’t know it all, that I don’t have all the answers, and sometimes friends tell me I’m too honest when I admit that I can’t help someone, because they are further than where I am at that moment. When I used to give riding lessons, the first one was always free. That way I could evaluate the horse and rider and determine if my knowledge was enough to get them closer to working as a team. If not, I told them so. In my yoga session yesterday, I taught from where I was; I taught who I am. I used explicit directions, I gave them time in silence to check within, I offered variations in a few poses and suggested when a strap or block might be helpful, and I designed my sequence for a clear warm up, peak, and cool down. The teacher that taught after me used humor and physically adjusted a few of the students in class. That is who he is, a funny guy who isn’t afraid to correct a student’s alignment. Last week, a student with significant knowledge on Tai Chi shared some of that with us. The quote was right. We teach who we are.
In writing, it is the same. We write about what we know. If one is skilled in how to train a dog, then that is what is shared. If another has insight on how to find peace and serenity, those are the words that they record. No two writers have the same style, just as no two teachers, of any subject, present in the same way. In fact, oftentimes when we compare ourselves, we decide that we are not as good as someone else. It doesn’t matter, as we are not the same as anyone else, so why should our words be the same? In my experience, if we struggle with writing, or teaching, “from where we are”, it has more to do with not accepting ourselves as human beings than it does thinking whatever we’ve created, a poem or a piece of artwork, is crap. Would your creative endeavors change if you told yourself that there is no one like you, has never been anyone like you, will never be another one like you? We are all unique in who we are, and in reality, we have no choice but to write, paint, teach, love, “from where we are”.
If you haven’t checked out where I have been, the prologue and the first two chapters of my novels, Of Gifts and the Goddess, and Of Dolphins and Desires, are now available for reading on my web site www.myjoyenterprises.com So the next time you pick up your pen to write, your brush to paint, or unroll your yoga mat to teach, remember where you are . . .