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....
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")*.
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