Friday, August 5, 2011

On teaching...

There's an interesting conversation going around the cybershala on teaching yoga and more specifically on teaching Ashtanga...You can read some thoughts from Nobel, Patrick and Claudia which has gotten me thinking...

I never intended to teach yoga.

I started taking yoga classes in whatever style was cheapest when I was was 1994. I took generic "hatha" classes, I took vinyasa classes, and I dropped in on some classes that today I'm not even sure what it was exactly. In 2001, I took my first Ashtanga class, a full led primary. After an hour into the class, I was sure I was going to keel over dead at any moment and was definitely sure I wasn't going to make it through the whole class.

I made it through the class and went back.

In late 2002 I moved to Miami and in the spring of 2003, I went to my first Mysore style Ashtanga class. I had found my "yoga home". I was a bit intimidated at the beginning of my first Mysore class while I sorted out how the whole thing worked, but I left that first class delighted with the feeling of being able to steer my own practice under the guidance of a teacher. I had done a home Ashtanga practice for most of a year at that point and found the best of both worlds in the Mysore room.

You know that feeling when you first meet a new boyfriend or girlfriend and you think they're so amazing that you want them to meet every one of your friends, so that each one of your friends will now also know how completely amazing this new person is?
...well, that's how I felt about Mysore style Ashtanga yoga...I was absolutely infatuated!

I spent 4 years in Miami soaking up as much yoga as possible. Every year on my birthday, I took the day off of work and went to the early morning Mysore class. It was a present to myself; there was no where else that I would rather have been.

When, after 4 years, we moved from Miami to a much smaller town, I was a bit heartbroken to leave my teachers. I had searched google and could find no evidence of any Mysore style classes in my new town. One of my teachers said just before I left, "If you don't find what you're looking for in a yoga class there, then you teach it."

I didn't find any Mysore classes in the new town. There was a led class at a local studio that I attended, but it just wasn't the same...and often it left me frustrated. I knew that so much more depth was possible from a yoga practice. I tried convincing the studio owner to try teaching Mysore classes. She wasn't interested. She was of the opinion that any kind of hands-on adjustment was going to cause injury and that I was going to "yoga hell" for even suggesting that they could be helpful. Most frustrating though, was not the lack of adjustments or assists, it was the loss of that feeling of steering my own practice, but with the support and encouragement of someone who had navigated those same waters before me. I did a teacher training...200 hours over the course of about a year and a half.

...and I started a class

For the first year, I taught a class once a week at a community center for free. I had 2, sometimes 3, students. I was honest about how new I was to teaching. I'm fairly certain I learned more than the students did in that year, but they found something in those practices that kept them coming back. For that, I am grateful beyond words.

I did learn some useful, broad perspective sorts of things in the teacher training that I took...but really, what I've learned so far about teaching, has come from 3 places:
1-my own personal, daily practice...daily time on the mat
2-my teaching practice...teaching Mysore and learning from each class
3-from my teachers...guidance and ecouragement that comes from their years of experience

I've been teaching Mysore style Ashtanga yoga for about 4 1/2 years now and practicing for about 10. In the lifetime of an Ashtanga practice, that is barely any time at all.

On a more aware sort of day, I realize that teaching yoga is much like meditation. It's not something you do. It's something that might happen when the conditions are right. My job is to help students learn to set up the right conditions and then get out of the way, so the practice itself can do the teaching. Some days I do a better job than others. My teaching practice, like my personal time on the mat, is exactly that, a practice.


  1. Hi Christine, thanks for sharing your experience! This is exactly how I envision the natural way of becoming a yoga teacher.

  2. Hi Yyogini,

    Thanks!...It has definitely evolved very naturally and slowly. I've kept my day job (which I also really enjoy; I'm a biologist) which has given me the freedom to teach just because I want to share the practice and without financial pressure to make a profit from teaching. I feel really lucky to have 2 jobs I love and be able to pay the bills!

  3. Love reading about your yoga journey Christine!!
    Nice to read about how much you learned from your students as well! :)
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks Colleen! Likewise, it's been fun reading about your experiences at all the yoga events in Seattle!

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences about your practice and teaching journey, Christine! I really like a couple of things you said:

    "My job is to help students learn to set up the right conditions and then get out of the way, so the practice itself can do the teaching."

    This is so true. Ultimately, it is only the student that can teach himself or herself. The teacher is there to support and facilitate.

    'She was of the opinion that any kind of hands-on adjustment was going to cause injury and that I was going to "yoga hell" for even suggesting that they could be helpful.'

    Well, if you are in yoga hell, I'm with you there! Or maybe we are in yoga purgatory? :-) Now, why do I keep thinking that I know this person you are talking about...?

  6. Thanks Nobel!...and thanks for starting a conversation about why and when to teach. I really liked that video from John Friend that you posted. I know very little about anusara, but I liked what he had to say about teaching.

    Glad I have company in yoga purgatory! ;)
    I do think you know the person...but, really, it's all worked out for the best, so I guess I have her to thank for that.