Teaching Yoga

Do you know the Zen story about the tea cup? It goes something like: a student comes to a Zen monastery to study with a master. The master asks the student to pour tea into his cup. The cup already has tea in it. As the student pours, he waits for the master to tell him to stop pouring. Eventually, the cup runs over and tea is spilled onto the table. The student asks the master, “Why did you not tell me to stop pouring? Now the tea is spilled.” To which the master replies, “Before you fill your cup, it must first be empty.”

The second class I took at the yoga studio where I’ve been attending classes for the past four years, was led by the most wonderful yoga teacher. I would cancel dinner plans just to attend her class, and I admit I was a bit disappointed when there was a sub to take her place when she was on vacation, because really, there was no replacing her. I did use those opportunities to practice yoga, which is accepting what is, surrendering to the moment. Because this teacher was very well-informed, had studied for years, she was able to apply the teachings of yoga to every day events. And despite whatever life threw at her, the love and friendliness that blossomed in her heart was given freely to every one of her students. I was able to confess to her that one of the reasons I decided to take the training and become a 500 hour yoga teacher was because she inspired me.

I plan to attend my regular Monday night class tonight, the first one without Jane. I will do my best to let go of judgment and comparison. I’ve been in the classroom long enough to realize that teaching, no matter where it is done, is a creative process and that no two teachers can deliver the material in exactly the same way.

Since my last class with her was a handful of days before I completed all my requirements for yoga certification, I wonder if it is coincidence, but then I know that there is no such thing. Luckily, there are several wonderfully talented yoga teachers at the studio where I can attend their classes and continue to learn from them about delivery, sequencing, and philosophy. I am grateful that yoga is a practice, and every day, every moment, I am given the opportunity to notice my habits and begin to discern what is unstilling and leads me away from the quiet center.

I am also thankful for my thirst for learning. As I attend classes, I pick up modifications in poses and several aspects of yogic philosophy. I also learn a tremendous amount from my own students. How they move through the postures and comments and confessions they make regarding how they’ve noticed things in their lives going smoother or not getting as upset or being pulled into drama as they had before beginning the practice on the mat. I have lost nothing by giving away what I know, what I find to be true in my experience.

Having two years of solid practice under my belt before engaging in the teacher training program prepared me for the transition. All the classwork and observations helped me to get ready to teach my own students. And completing the hours to become officially certified by Yoga Alliance, is still only the beginning of the practice. The transition continues, my evolution ever rolling forward. Though my favorite teacher may no longer be up in front of the class leading us through asana and the sometimes tangle of philosophy, she is in my heart, and with every one of her students in spirit.

In my first post, I had confessed that I wanted to teach yoga because I could not imagine keeping all that I had learned to myself. I imagine every yoga instructor feels the same. It is encouraging and validating (for the ego, anyway) when a student begins to connect the dots and understands how the practice on the mat transfers to their life and becomes a spiritual path. When they know what Trikonasana is and how to move into and out of it safely, when they smile because what the teacher has just reminded them of is exactly where their mind was or their breath forgotten, and when a student thanks the instructor for a poem or the recitation of a sutra or a limb because it pushes a button on a habit . . . this is service. My students, like myself, have emptied their cup.

During my teacher training, I recorded 25 poems and put together a project. Three of the poems are available for free reading on my web site www.myjoyenterprises.com  As I finished filling in my log for student teaching hours, it occurred to me that Yogi’s All: A Journey of Transformation Volume II needs to be taken from my head to the paper and shared with others. If you have a story of teaching yoga you’d like to share, leave it in the comment box below. Namaste.