Since I had to cancel my fall teaching tour due to an injury, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what it means to teach yoga. What is our responsibility to our students when we aren’t feeling well? And what’s our responsibility to ourselves?
What does it mean to teach yoga in the first place?
Widening the Field
Of course, in some ways, I think that if you asked 50 different yoga teachers this question, you’d get 50 different responses.
So I’ll just give you mine: for me, teaching asana, or the yoga poses, is the way into what I really love about yoga: the personal awareness and transformation it can effect. The poses make us feel really good in our body, and they cultivate enough sense of letting go that we can then drop into meditation or pranayama (breathing techniques).
If you have some familiarity with yoga philosophy, you might know this process better as the 8-fold path. Because although it’s not always taught this way today, yoga is much more than just the poses.
So within this context of developing body- and self-awareness, I’m most interested as a teacher in finding ways to help my students find what they need. And for many of us, especially the students who are attracted to Curvy Yoga, that is not more pushing.
Goodness knows we already push so much in our lives. Not to mention that the predominant message of western culture is to go, go, go.
So in my classes, we cultivate gentleness and kindness — even (and especially) if we’re holding a standing pose for awhile and everybody’s brow is starting to break a sweat.
Claiming My Seat
When I first started teaching yoga, I’d been a classroom teacher of English for five years. In that time, I’d learned about how best to engage with students in an authentic way. Interestingly, it was all about helping them find their voice as writers — something that’s obviously still of interest to me today, but now my students’ writing is with their body and life, not the keyboard.
As I began teaching yoga, though, I somehow “forgot” what I’d learned. Something about a new context, I guess.
It again took me awhile to find my footing, to really own the fact that it’s okay for me to have my own style. That it’s okay for my classes to really be about self-care more than achieving the rockstar poses.
That it’s okay if some people don’t like my class (whew; that one is a doozy to work through!).
One of the people who helped me own this is my teacher and friend Jen Louden. As yoga students, many of us are familiar with the concept of lineage. One way that we get to know other students and teachers is by finding out who their teachers are, and who their teachers are.
Well, Jen is definitely in my lineage. Her book The Woman’s Comfort Book, published 20 years ago, was the first of its kind. It’s sometimes hard to imagine now that self-care hasn’t always been a hot topic — or even a talked-about topic, but it’s true.
Jen opened the door for people like me to talk more about self-care — and to use that framework for talking about yoga in an accessible way for those of us who aren’t yet Sanskrit scholars.
One of the ways that Jen helped me see this is through an excellent course called TeachNow that she co-created with Michele Christensen. Recently, Jen and I sat down to talk about how I created Curvy Yoga and what effect TeachNow had in that process. It’s a short interview — just 11 minutes, but we get into some juicy stuff about what it means to chart your own path as a teacher. I hope you’ll give it a listen:
Also, lucky you that Jen and Michele are opening TeachNow up for registration again. Yoga teachers of all stripes will benefit greatly from this course; many of us don’t learn what it really means to be a teacher as opposed to an asana instructor, and TeachNow can give you that background and confidence.
I’m so happy to be an affiliate and get to share this course with you, which has been completely transformative for my life. I know it will be for yours, too. So go check out their excellent free resources and get on the list to learn more and sign up now!
We need all the lit-up teachers we can get.