Teacher, Learn from your Students

I first entered into yoga instructor training in 2002 when I took YogaFit Level 1. Since then, I’ve taken YogaFit’s trainings through Level 4 and also participated in a 50-hour Principle-Based Partner Yoga training in May of 2013. So that’s 130 hours of training, still a bit short of my 200-hr Yoga Alliance Certification, but I continue to work on it.

What I can’t quantify on paper is the amount of training that I’ve received over the years from people I’ve had the privilege to have in my classes. Way back when I started in 2002, I taught at a local gym. I’d sub for the very experienced instructor, carefully writing out my class format on index cards. I didn’t need to do much but show up and not screw up and everybody followed along just fine. I thought “I’ve got this teaching thing down!”

Then I had to take my teaching to a new environment. YogaFit level 1 training requires students to do 8 hours of community teaching and lead classes in an environment where students have no previous exposure to yoga. I’m 15 minutes into my first class and I look at the group of ladies and realize with horror that I’ve got 10 different students all doing triangle incorrectly – and each with their own unique version of incorrect. THAT is when my teacher training really started. That moment right there. With my voice and gentle touches, I was able to get everybody into alignment and through class. I had my work cut out for me with this completely rank-beginner class. And the genius of the YogaFit requirement is that I’d never have learned that if I hadn’t been forced to.

Regardless of your level of training (and I do urge you to take training continuously if you’re going to teach), each and every time you lead a class, you’ve got a group of teachers right in front of you. Look, you were born with the body you’ve got. You’ve occupied it for your entire life and you’ve got a solid yoga practice built with it and you took it along with you for all of your teacher trainings. But it’s one body. One. Out of seven billion. You’ve got a lot to learn about the others.

One of my first student-teachers was a woman in my UT Dept of Health classes who was bold enough to ask me the questions that she needed to customize her practice. If you’ve not seen me, I’m built long (5’8”) and fairly lean (145 pounds, give or take). On top of that, I’ve got long limbs and very loose joints. So all of my cuing in the early days was built around that structure. This particular student was a lovely Mexican-American woman, built short and curvy. Her questions to me involved HER unique body – the one build solid and strong but without the reach that I had in certain poses. There were poses like Sage pose or bound angle where she simply couldn’t reach far enough to get into the pose. And my cuing about protecting her joints from bending backwards confused her. Were her joints “supposed “ to do that (short answer, no).

Since this student-led education I’m always hungering for my students to talk to me. And I’ve learned so much from so many. The tall and curvy student who didn’t even think she could be an instructor because she didn’t have a “yoga body” and is now one of the teachers I regularly seek out. The Vietnam veteran aged 67 who still showed the strength and posture of his youth, but who struggled getting up and down off the floor. The woman with carpel tunnel who often finds putting weight in her hands painful. My husband in all his maleness whose yoga body is so utterly different from mine. The large breasted woman who nearly suffocated herself in shoulder stand. Every time a new student comes to my class I’m delighted. One more yoga body to learn from!

Remember these things when you’re a taking a class from somebody else (whether you ever teach classes or not). Ask questions and explore how what the teacher is saying applies to your body, in your unique circumstances on that day.  If your teacher is a good one, then whatever you bring to him or her will go right into that teacher’s repertoire and benefit some other student down the road. So go teach, and most importantly, go learn.

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