As I finish up a class with a great teacher, and longtime friend of mine, I crack a smile as I settle into my final rest. I had noticed his teaching style had been changing a bit in the past few months, as he had obviously found some new inspiration, and he was now moving into a more alignment-driven focus. This made me reflect on how much my own teaching style has really changed over the past thirteen years.
I feel like we all go through a type of transformation as teachers. Initially we are all drawn towards what we enjoy, but eventually we start to look for a challenge. Some of us seek out information on alignment, others may make the move to a more “devotional” practice, others still may–lead by a teacher that resonates or inspires us–swing back another way. The most effective or “authentic” teachers both teach what they know, and practice what they preach. The only absolute in life is change. As the years go on, we lead our students along with us. We show and teach them what has sparked something inside of us during our journey. We may lose a few, but we may also gather a few more. As long as we are earnestly presenting something that is heartfelt, they will continue to feel connected and that’s what it’s all really about.
Of course, some of us will get “stuck” or fall in love with a particular style–hanging in there for the long haul. This makes me think of some school friends that got “stuck” in the nineties and never grew out of that “grunge thing.” Maybe the nineties were the most beautiful time in their lives, and now they are using those lessons, from that beautiful time, to apply to their growth moving forward. It’s the same idea, just a different intention. For me, during the years I’ve been instructing, I’ve seen a progression: my yoga has transformed. I have been lead in different directions; inspired by different styles and teachers. All have had something positive to offer, all have made me a better practitioner and a better teacher. But eventually I had to ask myself: what am I trying to accomplish with my practice? With my teaching? What should my yoga offer me? What should my yoga offer my students?
As I have gotten older, my practice has transformed. It began as all shock and awe: high energy vinyasa sprinkled with Cirque du Soleil level bends and balances. Then I began to learn about alignment and started to fine tune my practice to create more balance and focus. After that, I began to find my voice, and became better able to express the truer nature of the practice. During each of these changes the injuries came, went, and came back again: a constant reminder that my ego was not serving me in this work, and that I was ultimately breaking my body. I continued to learn, move forward, and learn some more. Maybe I fell back a few times, but each step, no matter which direction, made me a better practitioner and a better teacher. This whole time I introduced each change and each lesson learned to my students.
Even now, almost a decade and a half into this process, I’m still learning and still transforming, hopefully, into something better. These days my practice is both a little slower and a little less hyperactive. My practice is a little more thoughtful and a lot more attentive. I have been moving toward a more “mature” practice and moving a bit away from the “advanced” practice I taught before. I have become more concerned with the health and overall well-being of myself, of others and of the planet.
Your practice should be more than “mat -deep.” Yoga can change people; I have seen it. Yoga can change the world; I believe it. Yoga is a way of life; I live it.
Here in the West, we usually begin our eight-limbed path with Asana and that’s okay. The rest will come: it’s all waiting to be explored, found, experienced and shared. Seeing the transformation in my friends, in my students and in myself is ultimately what it’s all about. Yoga is a powerful gift that is being given every day. Namaste my friends.