08 July 2014

Defining Myself as a Teacher of Yoga

I mentioned in my previous blog post that life events seemed to be pulling me deeper into teaching yoga, despite my plans to develop other aspects of my health and wellness consultancy, such as Reiki and Eating Psychology Coaching. Since then, I've also noticed that I'm being asked to identify what I really value when I teach yoga to a group of students. Here's the example that's driving this reflection.

I currently teach a range of yoga classes. In a single week, I may teach (in order of advertised difficulty): restorative or chair yoga, gentle yoga, hatha yoga, vinyasa flow yoga, and hot power yoga. Currently the former classes occur mostly at a studio; the latter at various local gyms.

What I often hear from students at the gyms is that my teaching is "slow". Most quickly follow that description with smiles and gratitude, telling me how much they appreciate it. A few seemingly present it to me with some disdain, as if I'd somehow gotten in the way of their intense stretching workout. Yet even when I create and offer faster and more challenging sequences for the super fit gym yogis, I watch as they consistently:
  • Don't align themselves in the postures correctly, regardless of my cues
  • Can't keep up with the speed of the flow
  • Take respite in child's pose (which is awesome, by the way!)
  • Are dripping sweat
  • Can't focus their attention 
  • Can't coordinate their breath with their movements
  • Scrunch up their faces and hold their breath
  • And so on....
Now, I'm not saying this to rag on any of my students. What is puzzling to me as a teacher is this: when I see these things, I do not feel that it's in anyone's best interest for me to pick up the pace, or otherwise add intensity. At the most basic level, my top priority is to keep my students safe from injury, so they have the opportunity to practice again tomorrow. Regardless of my plans for any class, I always adjust to the feedback I'm getting as I look and walk around the room. So what are these yogi's who negatively comment about my slow teaching pace searching for?

A former dance instructor was able to relate to my confusion. He said, "you are trying to teach people to dance, and they just want patterns." Meaning, the point at which a dance move or a yoga posture can be executed correctly (physically) is not the END of the learning process; rather, it's just the beginning. Yet many people who have difficulty executing even the basic physical shape in yoga classes--e.g. those who would be aided greatly by the use of props but refuse to use them--keep wanting more, to "skip ahead" to...I don't know what. Maybe it's just cultural: everything in our lives is so quick these days; slowing down to really feel into our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our souls is the real challenge, and it's too much. We'd rather continuing to distract with speed. (Believe me, I can relate.) However, truly advanced yoga students understand that this is the real intensity of their practice: yoga as a "work-in" (as opposed to a "work-out")*.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that such paradox is making me think more clearly about what I value as a teacher of yoga (rather than a "yoga teacher"). My initial training in teahing yoga by two of the best yoginis at one of the most reputable yoga schools in the country started me on this journey, and I continue to develop and learn through my own experience what I feel is important to pass along to my students.

Regardless of where I teach, what my title or the official class title is, creating a safe space (through my languaging, my use of the environment, and my pacing) that allows students to explore themselves not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally is of utmost importance to me. That is how I define myself as a teacher of yoga, how I feel most authentic and true. It's how I maintain my integrity, and it's the kind of relationship I always want to cultivate with my students.

Teachers of yoga, have you experienced similar contradictions? Students, tell me your thoughts on "slow" classes.

An endless student of yoga,

*As stated by Judith Hanson Lasater


  1. Kali - As a beginning student of yoga and a fairly experienced teacher of software development, I appreciate both slow and fast modes both as a teacher and a student.

    Fast sometimes allows a broader view and can fuel motivation. Fast can release endorphins and help us let go.

    Slow allows focus and mastery and builds foundations for further progress and insight.

    Both modes in yoga can help clear the mind but honestly for me it depends on the day what will be more effective.

    I know one teacher of yoga who is adept at working both modes in the same class. It can be breathtaking to experience her work. So maybe you are on the path to figuring out how to guide your students to move between the two modalities in a joyous and harmonious way.

  2. Thanks Steve for your thoughts--perhaps you are right! I know I personally feel I can let go in an Ashtanga class, when I'm mesmerized by the movement and the Sanskrit counting. Working on exploring this whole thing as a lesson, for sure.