I have always preferred meditating to asana practice. The state of stillness appeals to me. My meditation practice teaches me to observe. Learning to observe my ‘self’ in the newness of the morning naturally leads to observing other areas of my life - which I suppose is the point of meditation. Observing things just as they are.
So one year into teaching yoga, where am I? What is it that I am observing?
My training was primarily in Ashtanga, which is fundamentally where my practice stemmed from. A natural progression you would think. However, I also had some great guest teachers on my course who brought in very different styles. The phenomenal Acharya Venkatesh who has absolute precision in his teachings and a very considered and intelligent take on classical Hatha yoga. I was also lucky enough to have Doug Swenson on my course. Doug brought flair to the course - he taught us to be creative with our sequencing. And finally, we were introduced to the Bihar teachings - I had already spent hours pouring over many Bihar books during my practitioner days and had a fondness for their simplicity and back to basic approach.
By all intense and purposes, I was spoilt by the teachers and the styles of yoga I was trained in. So what did this array of teachings do for my own teaching?
I was lucky enough to be offered a job at my local yoga studio where I had been practising for several years. I was to teach the lunchtime classes - in anything I wanted. The basic remit was 45 minutes stretch, nothing too advanced. Great!
So I started teaching Ashtanga. …then I started bringing in some fun sequencing, based around Ashtanga.
My students seemed to react well to the creative classes I was running, but through my own observations, I questioned whether it was good to have such a degree of variation - for every class to be different. Perhaps it is better ‘teaching’ to stick with the same sequence so students really develop their practice.
Do students in a lunchtime class care so much about this - I am not sure they have the same discipline that a hardened Ashtangi might. Do students want to be ‘entertained’ at yoga classes these days? Do they want to do the easy postures, so they can say they have ‘done’ yoga without having to put too much effort into it? So what is important in the qualities of a regular class? Continuity? Creativity? Progression? Fun?
A year after graduating and I am questioning not only my teaching but also the teachings of others. On the one hand, I see the value in becoming specialised in a specific area of teaching yoga, however on the other - I see brand new graduates teaching all sorts of wild and wonderful styles. Clearly, they have not been trained in these, but yoga being the open market that it is, allows for teachers to teach just about anything, so long as they have completed 200 hours in…something!
I don’t agree with this and frankly, I think it undermines you, me and everyone involved in the ‘industry' …and yoga can be categorised as an industry in today's world - yoga is a machine, churning out more teachers than the market probably needs. What is wrong with this approach and why are young teachers so focused on doing as much as they can as quickly as they can? It seems that they are missing out several fundamental steps in the learning process. Perhaps that is simply a generational thing.
I observed these questions for several months. I switched my teachings to bring it back to a shortened pure Ashtanga sequence. It is, after all, a solid sequence…and then I switched back.
The feedback I kept getting was students enjoy the variety in classes. I am teaching from my heart and I can see the popularity of yoga is without a doubt being pulled to generic Vinyasa, Yin and Hot Yoga. The new generation of students seems to want the variety in every class - perhaps this is linked to the Instagram generation of instant gratification. Yogasana has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, entertaining such things as Gin&Yin, Beer Yoga and even subjecting our four-legged friends to this nonsense (Doga).
This is not yoga. Yoga is a deep, multifaceted practice. It is discipline. A way of life.
These new styles of yoga are merely marketing absurdities riding the coattails of the growing popularity of a serious and deep philosophy.
…but anyway, back to the observing. Why am I being judgemental? What is my truth in all of this?
My truth is that I do respect the linear of the yoga traditions and I find them fascinating. There is something in that and as with every strong foundation, comes popularity, money and ultimately business. I also do see the ‘business value’ in ‘diluting’ yoga to attract different audiences and of course the element of fun involved.
As a teacher, I want to teach what I have been trained in. I want to develop my skills so that I KNOW what I am teaching. I want to understand the how and the why in EVERYTHING I teach. I want to become a Yoga Master in my own specific area of lunchtime classes.
…and then I want to learn more - I want to learn how to teach to specific audiences, I want to understand the muscles, the physiology, the subtleties of the body and the mind so that I can become a teacher who has absolute confidence in what I say in a class.
The only way to truly teach from the heart is to keep learning, keep training and keep practising.
So in the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter so much what I teach, but more how I teach it. What is the intention and what knowledge and training does one have to have to be an authority in offering this information to the general public?
Two things I have become aware of during my observing - one is how useful observing is and the other - observing only really becomes valid if action is applied to the observations noticed.