When I'm teaching a Yoga class, I find it difficult to strike the right balance between how much talking I should do, and when to let silence do the talking. A lot of that depends on what the day brought and the energy level in the room. With the holiday season now in full swing, kicked off with a Thanksgiving full of gratitude and reverence, there's definitely plenty to talk about. But how much is too much? That fine line will be different for everyone, but for me, as someone who finds it difficult to get upclose and personal in class, I usually find myself talking… A lot! As paradoxical as this may sound, it's not that I don't like talking - hey I teach for a living - but it calms my nerves.
Right now might be a good time to mention that what I love to talk about is alignment. I love anatomy, I can't get enough of it: the mighty Illiopsoas, the sensitive Quadratus Lomborum, the stabilizing Transverse Abdominis… I love to hear teachers speak about muscles and joints; I would drink of that brew any day. Sure it might not be everyone's cup of tea, but spending some time teaching students about alignment isn't to bore them to death or to teach them how to achieve the perfect pose - we all know there's no such thing, and when we get close it lasts a split second, after which the work starts all over again; but rather to raise awareness, consciousness; to help students awaken their bodies and senses so then can practice Yoga for a long time.
As I learn more from my teachers and my own practice, I am trying to infuse my classes with just the right mix of anatomy and finding the space within. That can be challenging and unsettling. And when my comfort zone seems to retract too far away and I begin to feel agitated in an unchartered territory, i quickly spring back to what I'm most familiar and comfortable with; alignment. That said, as much as I love speaking about it, I know it's equally important to allow students to come into their own experience, to feel their practice, without intruding. In other words, I need to shut up! But damn that's tough! Silence? What is my restless self supposed to do while stillness, calm and rhythmic breath are taking place all around me?
The breath. Yes. One of my teachers always says, "it's all just a breathing exercise". But the breath isn't just for students to regulate the heart rate when flowing, staying in any pose for what seems an eternity or finding inner calm in movement and stillness; it's just as much for the teacher. Now, when I ask my students how their breath is, if they are still breathing or to take a breath, I follow my own advice. While they soften their gaze, dive a little further into a pose; or watch the breath as it moves in and out of the nose, I take deep breaths myself, soften my gaze and I shut up. And in those golden moments of silence everything feels right and open, and we all, together, become more receptive to the great gifts Yoga offers . And for that I am truly thankful. (I'm also thankful for that awesome turkey Marc made and the superbly decadent pecan pie I indulged in; and then some, and some…)
Does it bother you, when in a class, people are just doing their own thing? Everyone's in Downward facing Dog, but your neighbor is already doing his third set of Chaturanga? As a student it doesn't really bother me; I'm usually so focused inwards I don't notice, and when I do, I quickly move on.
The non-judgment went out the window when I found myself on the other side of the looking glass, giving instructions to students as we warmed up at the beginning of class, only to find that one person was already doing core work, or moving into balancing poses. In my first classes I can't say this bothered me much; I was so focused on giving a good well-rounded class and keeping everyone safe, that I just thought, 'yeah let him do his own thing'.
But as he kept on coming back to class, the situation started to give me a real attitude problem. I mean 'hello, aren't you listening to me? I said Savasana, not Sirsasana!" - maybe I need to invest in a whistle? Finally, he took Savasana and I exhaled; just thinking about it made my jaw clench. I started wondering, "why is he here? He probably thinks this class is too easy; does he even like the class? Why is he not closing his eyes during Savasana? You're freaking me out dude. Oops there it is, self-doubt, again; this shit is getting old...
Thinking about how I should proceed, I thought I could ask him to just stay with the flow of class as it is distracting to me and perhaps even to other students. On the other hand, here's someone who's coming to this space consistently, displaying an extraordinary amount of passion and commitment. Yeah, well, he likes to go off on a tangent sometimes, but he is here, expressing his Yoga every day; there's beauty in that; and who am I to take that away from him?
Instead of taking away, I will focus on having him work on refining his alignment even in the simplest of poses; that can be my gift to him.
I remember the first time I heard my Yoga teacher Om in class. I suppressed a chuckle although I could feel the corners of my mouth reveal a smirk that said, "Yeah OK, whatever, this new age business is your business but don't expect me to take part." I didn't OM that day, nor the next, nor the next.
As my Asana practice began to strengthen my body, reduce low back pain, open up my hamstrings and hips and peel away layers of tension, I became more curious about the less physical aspects of Yoga. Pranayama helps me cope with discomfort, let go of frustrations, reign in positive energy and juggle the precarious balance between chaos and peace.
So maybe it was worthing giving Om a chance. So the next time my teacher inhaled preparing for Om, i didn't smirk and tighten up my lips; instead, I was at the ready, waiting for it... As the vibration in my throat turned to sound, the release felt good. It wasn't legendary, and it wasn't a cathartic experience but I could tell it helped me find grounding and focus. I began to Om in every class. Voices connected in unison, I could hear the sound traveling through the air, and felt the residual vibration once silence set in. Pretty cool.
When I became a Yoga teacher, I couldn't bring myself to Om. I was afraid my voice wasn't nice, that the students wouldn't Om with me - ouch for the ego - or that they would think it ridiculous just as I once did. And so for many classes I spoke of breath, grounding, effort and release, awareness, without every letting the energy out. Sharing Om was just a little too personal, a little too big; no judgement thank you.
That was until last weekend. I was teaching a Sunday evening class. Playlist ready, sequence ready, torture block ready. Something was in the air; maybe the stars were perfectly aligned; my lucky Yoga pants may have had something to do with it too; or perhaps I just believed in myself a little more. Teaching that evening was special; it was nourishing; I felt opened and receptive.
Savasana. Time for a change. **** it, I'm going to Om; perhaps this will change something for someone. I can't say I wasn't afraid; filled with self-doubt - here's the bitch again - and there was definitely a lump in my throat as I asked everyone to inhale. Om. Harmony with 15 souls. It was natural; authentic and liberating.
There was a connection. To what, I'm not sure. Was it the human experience, me, the universe? It's hard to say, and it lasted a split second. But in that moment, I felt what it was like to find my voice. And that was magic.
I did it. I jumped off the deep end, struggled, came up for air, and took a big gulp of prana. Last Friday evening, I taught my first public #Yoga class in #San Francisco. I spent two days making sure everything was in place. I recruited the help of my husband to create the perfect play list, choosing music that reminded me of home in #Dubai. I wore my lucky bracelet from my #YogaTT and prepared a juicy 75-minute sequence that reflected my style of teaching: core work, flowing poses with attention to alignment, chest openers, stretches and a long #Savasana to relax after a tough day or week.
I reminded myself of what my senior teacher had said recently during our latest training, "Do you want to be a popular teacher, or a good teacher?" And so it was with the best of intentions that I stepped into the studio - I am going to teach damn it!
The large space was heated via Infrared light, so the temperature was just perfect and I even chose a favorite ambient lighting via a color wheel! How sweet is that? The bay windows are electronically controlled so you can decide the amount of natural light to let in - it doesn't get much better than that; what an auspicious start.
Unrolling my mat - I opted not to stand on the elevated platform - I was excited to see the first student walk in... Starting on our backs, we began finding our breath, letting go of the day, tasks, to do lists, and every piece of luggage weighing so heavily on our shoulders. So far, so good... After some gentle stretches, we moved into our first downward facing dog, plank, and baby cobra. Looking at bodies moving, I realized my all-levels sequence was inappropriate and needed to be adapted to beginners. Bam! To say that panic hit me would be exaggerating but the comfort zone was gone, I was in unchartered territory - where's my breath now? Sun salutations turned into standing poses that melted into balancing poses... A slew of thoughts assailed me: the arm is too far back; the hip too far forward; the torso is facing the floor and the stance is too small... Happy place, happy place.
The rest is pretty much a blur - the next thing I recall is the last song on my playlist, an acoustic rendition of Over The Rainbow. Time for Savasana, thank God! Exhale! I gave everyone a soothing massage and relaxed along with them. Then, just as quickly as it had begun, the class was over. Wait, what? That's it? You're leaving?
I walked out feeling inflated by the exhilaration of the experience - come on my first class in a brand new city! But also deflated that I couldn't 'fix' everything I saw; perhaps I hadn't been teaching as much as I had hoped. As I stepped back out back into the world, one of the students thanked me for the class. His neck had been stiff for a few weeks and he was happy the session had helped release some tightness. Wait, what? You liked the class? He had come to move after a long day; open up tight spaces, sweat some, breathe better and perhaps find Orpheus a little more easily that night; the same reasons I practice Yoga.
That evening, I reflected on this first class - by the time I was done, the box of chocolate almonds was gone too - yes I could have done this and that, not this and that: self-doubt is a bitch... But again, recalling the words of my senior teacher, "the best part of a Yoga class, is when you let it go." Looking back is only human nature, but can have dire consequences if you linger too long. So here's to first times, and to looking forward, whatever direction it may take you.