Meandering the yogic path

“A photographer gets people to pose for him. A yoga instructor gets people to pose for themselves.”

T. Guillemets

I have been teaching yoga for five years at my place of employment. It’s not a full time job, or something I make in addition to my income. I have incorporated it into my regular 40 hour work week. I feel so grateful to be able to share yoga with hundreds of people over the years, many of them for the first time. I have never wanted to become a full time yoga teacher, but feel it’s an amazing supplement to being a psychologist.

Earlier this week, someone who has attended my classes on and off over the years, mentioned it’s become harder. I wondered aloud has her body changed, has her workouts changed? Am I teaching differently? We agreed that I am. With assisting a wide variety of people, bodies, and limitations, I can’t help but think I have shifted in how I instruct. In the beginning I was quite earnest to ensure my classes were overly creative with themes, doing elaborate poses, or putting together an intriguing sequence. But what I have been doing is trying to simplify. Hold the poses longer. Utilize yin postures and principles. I will physically adjust with a more keen eye. I have let go of the script, and observed who is in the room more frequently. I’ve stopped trying to replicate bring other instructors I love, and have embraced being myself.

I also have attempted teaching chautaranga in the class finally this week. I had done this once, but only with someone available to demonstrate for me. Although I have taught crow pose and cannot completely conquer it yet, I know many of my students can do it. First time yogis who are strong young men may struggle with flexibility but love when I add crow to the class. They surprise themselves with this pose. I will instruct people to do a “push up” to the floor, but this week I challenged myself to demonstrate (even though I tend to fall to the ground). This strength came from was being a student this past week. The instructor encouraged me to continue to try chautaranga , “you can do it,” she said. I fell down and laughed at myself. She nudged me to keep trying despite the fact I may fall. How else will I learn?

Today with this one particular group who solely want the class for stretching, I added a small “namaste” at the end of our class. This person mentioned he liked the physical aspect of yoga more than the spiritual. They teased me that I may enjoy the spiritual too much. I am careful with this weekly group to not add talk on chakras, have an altar, or discuss other words in Sanskrit. I did tell them that many people today come to yoga for the physical aspect, but are eventually drawn to the spiritual. I noticed when I had done a namaste with hands to the forehead and then ground, one particular person lingered there. I feel it was appreciated more than it was verbally expressed.

My classes vary in attendance and attendees over the years, with the constant fluctuation of the population I work with. Therefore I have learned to not teach more than what they are ready for. But how can one not integrate yoga with spirituality ? From an instructor’s perspective, even if one does not voice a word about this domain, it can exude in a classroom setting.

First, there is intentionality. Whether the class sets a sankalpa (intention), or the instructor does, it remains a focal point. Secondly, all participants must be physically and mentally present in the class to stay in the poses. In reality, yoga was created to prepare the body for meditation. One needs of flow and transition mindfully throughout the postures to ensure self care. The yogic principles of honoring where your body is today is always highlighted, reminding ourselves to remove judgement and comparison from our minds. Additionally, the entire class is moving and breathing together. We are creating the moment, no class is exactly the same. What is being worshipped is this moment and breath. Finally, a sense of community and trust is silently built to respect each other and what is shared in the class. Trust is heightened as students allow physical adjustments to be made by the instructor.

We may have differing opinions of what spirituality consists of, but I cannot separate yoga from a form of spiritual practice. I have observed my yogic journey (parallel to my spiritual journey) is not something that has a peak or ending point. It’s constantly morphing. There are periods where I may be more devoted and disciplined than others. Moments exist where I am the student or facilitator. Sometimes I may be both. There is always more to learn and ways to grow. Spiritual practice and yoga is not something you learned and practiced before, it’s in the present moment. Jack Kornfield quotes a lama in his book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, “I realized I couldn’t live in some enlightened memory. What became clear is that spiritual practice is only what you’re doing now. Anything else is fantasy.”

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