Saturday, February 21, 2015

5 Reasons Why I Don't Belong In Yoga, And 5 Reasons Why That Makes Me A Good Teacher


Yoga teacher training (YTT) continues to inspire and befuddle me. There is so much wisdom in the teachings of yoga, but the language of yoga itself in many cases just bogs me down and makes me want to crack snarky jokes in the back of the studio while drinking whiskey and smoking a Marlboro red. It doesn't help that so many of my fellow teacher/students have clearly drank the Kool-Aid (and I mean that in the nicest way. They are truly some of the most interesting and lovely people I have ever met), which makes me feel like even more of a douche when I am giggling in my head at some of the stuff I just don't get.

Here, in no particular order, are five reasons why I don't belong in yoga class, followed by five reasons why the previous five reasons will actually make me a better teacher.

1. I can't get behind the terminology. With common phrases like "hug muscle to bone" and "energetically pull your legs into your hip sockets" and other various self-help sounding, capitalized references to Self and You, this type of terminology is difficult for me to hear with a straight face.

2. I don't believe that we should surrender to the idea that all life is suffering. This is a Buddhist idea that I have been mulling around for quite some time, and it is hard to wrap my head around the idea that we are put on earth to suffer.

3. I don't believe in denial. See what I did there? But I don't believe that giving up butter will make me an enlightened person. Same goes with cocktails, barbecue, and sex. Yet an "enlightened" person practices none of these things. We had an Ayurvedic workshop two months ago, and the teacher said that vata people should have sex once a month, pitta people once a week, and kappha people whenever they want.  Seems unfair to the vatas, no?

4. I don't love all of my fellow humans. In fact, as my daughter puts it, it's not that I don't like people; I just don't like strangers. This will be very difficult for a teacher who may see a student once. Especially if that teacher is clearly emanating an "I hate strangers" vibe.

5. I am horribly imperfect. Teachers, although human, should be exemplars, and yikes. Did you read the first four reasons? My friend Terri says she doesn't see all of this stuff I am trying to change about myself, but if she could only roll around in my head every now and then. It's a shitshow in there.

And now, the good news.

1. I have the potential to make yoga more accessible with different language. As a former teacher of middle school students, I am very familiar with the deconstruction of a concept to help build understanding. I don't have to talk to my potential future students in the same language of the classes I am currently taking. Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't know it well enough." My job is to know it well enough so that I can not only explain it simply but also in terms that make more sense.

2. Although I don't  believe all life is suffering, I have suffered. Empathy is a HUGE part of being a teacher. I don't mean sympathy, like feeling sorry for someone, which has its place, to be sure. Empathy is truly understanding and feeling what a person is going through. In my life I have lost a father, a house, a husband, and a baby. I have been foods-stamps broke and very flush (briefly, but still). I have moved quite a bit, experienced major depression and incredible joy. I taught public school for 13 years; I was a counselor for women in transitional housing. I was a drone in an office. For better or for worse, when you are going through something and I am near you, I quite literally feel your pain (or happiness). This is a positive thing for a yoga teacher because it makes it possible to teach a class with sensitivity and compassion, as opposed to just leading students through a sequence. Which class would you rather take?

3. I believe in balance. I am never going to advocate giving up what you love for yoga. You want to drink all night? Eat red meat? Smoke pot? Hey, man. That's okay by me. Truly. Maybe it makes you feel crappy the next day, maybe it doesn't. I just don't believe that giving up all sensual pleasures is a requirement of a beautiful yoga practice, and I don't think the public declaration of having done so makes you any better of a person than the drinker on the mat next to you. It's like competitive yoga, who can be the most pure, which is quite the opposite of what yoga is all about.

4. Strangers are friends you haven't met yet. HA. I don't believe this. What I do believe, though, is that my response to strangers is that of a mirror. When I see strangers as assholes, it is more about me than them (although, admittedly, sometimes it is about them. But that's a whole other blog). Lately I have been thinking a lot about the ripples in the pond. When I buy coffee for the car behind me, maybe that changes the course of that person's entire day. When I practice basic courtesy (holding open a door, smiling, saying "Thank you"), that enters into someone's day like light through a tiny crack in the door. I truly enjoy making that happen for other people. Maybe it's selfish to be kind because it makes me feel good, but this is the way I have been trying to deal with strangers, and if I can bring this into yoga class, attempting to shine a small sliver of light into the darkness, that will only make me a better teacher (and a better human!).

5. Yoga is a "practice," not a "perfect." This is key. I have entered into many anonymous Internet arguments of late about the image of yogis. I am sick and tired of seeing bendy white girls in their early 20s as the "face" of yoga. Only in Western yoga, friends. In the East, it's mostly grizzly, droopy, hairy Indian men. You don't have to be tall, willowy, white, and female to practice yoga, and I want everyone who comes into my future classes to understand this. There is no "perfect" yoga body or type or income level. Everyone starts at a different place, and everyone has a personal practice that is unique to them. As one of my former teachers said, "If you're feeling it, you're doing it."

Yoga teacher training is surely a journey filled with contradictions for me. Do you have any similar experiences where what makes something hard is also what makes it easy?