Teaching People, Not Poses

The following is an excerpt from Jay’s book, Teaching People, Not Poses: 12 Principles for Teaching Yoga with Integrity.

When I first started doing yoga I thought it would make me a better person. In fact, in the first year that I practiced, I would say my life felt brighter and more manageable than ever before. I was dropping the edge of competition I had grown up with as a gymnast, I was learning how to be gentler with myself and I was feeling more positive and engaged with the world in general.

If taking yoga could do this, what could teaching yoga do?

This wasn’t necessarily a conscious thought, but I sought out teaching because somewhere in me I thought it was the sure path to enlightenment in this life. Well, maybe not enlightenment, but at least a life that wasn’t so freaking messy and uncomfortable.

Little did I know at that point that yoga isn’t about making your life more manageable. In fact, within a few months of taking my teacher training I was divorced and totally at a loss for what to do with my life. How’s that for not messy?

But I had an idea of what a yoga teacher should be like, and I went through that time in my life playing the role of yoga teacher. I focused on the positive, told myself the heartbreak would only make me stronger and that everything would be ok again some day (i.e. easy, comfortable and manageable). To put it succinctly, I spiritually bypassed the emotional shit storm that was raging under the surface. I’d walk into my class as if my whole world wasn’t falling to pieces, and I would teach poses. God only knows what I said during those classes, but I’m sure it sounded like total bull

In the fourteen years I’ve been teaching,
I’ve been through more break ups than I’d like to think about, more moves than I can count, chronic illness for a few years, deaths of loved ones, a miscarriage and a roll over car accident. I’ve also fallen in love more than once, earned a graduate degree, studied with inspiring teachers, found a rich and trustworthy relationship with my inner guidance, and experienced many deeply, profoundly loving moments.

In short, I’ve been a human being.IMG_0791

In looking back from this vantage point, it turns out that my yoga practice as a student and as a teacher hasn’t made me more enlightened, it’s simply made me more myself. And lo and behold, my self isn’t as one-dimensional and together as my vision of the perfect yoga teacher.

Thank god.

Because I’ve come to understand that the very things I used to try to hide are what make me more interesting, and also what enable me to connect with other people in a way that is real and meaningful. I’ve discovered that the only person who thinks I should have my shit together when I walk into a room full of people is me. And I’ve come to accept that being myself, even if I’m sometimes needy or jerky or scared or sad, is far more preferable (and less exhausting) than constantly trying to outrun myself.

And that feels good. Mostly. It also feels vulnerable. To stand up in front of a group of people week after week as me still scares me. It’s funny, until a year ago I’ve always been looking for a real job, something I could call my career. Not because I don’t think teaching yoga is a credible career, but because I think teaching yoga is flipping scary. I wanted to believe that I could find something that I love to do as much as I love teaching, but that isn’t so confronting of all the tender places in my heart and spirit. (And that also pays better!)

But through this ever-evolving journey to myself that has been yoga, I’ve found that this kind of confrontation with the grace and grit of life is exactly why I love teaching yoga, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. And it’s not that I think that teaching poses isn’t important—I love asana and am a total geek about anatomy—it’s just that I’ve become more interested in how teaching and practicing yoga offers such a tremendous opportunity to bump up against my deeper self in ways that aren’t always comfortable but are often liberating.

So you know how your students get cranky when you can’t teach and there’s a sub there? That’s because there’s something about you that they love and respond to. Anyone can teach a series of poses, but only you can be you. Trust that. Trust that your students are attracted to your classes because of who you are, and bring more of yourself to your teaching.

But don’t do it for your students, do it for you so that you can have more of yourself in everything you do. Even if you’re not the self you thought you’d grow up to be.

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