I just want to write some impressions from last night’s class, just a commentary. Please pardon the length, if you will. And if you won’t I trust you will just go elsewhere.
I didn’t want to over-rehearse — sensible enough, this was to be a Basic Yoga class. Also, I’ve been working hard on setting down certain routines and sequences, knowing them really well, down to which direction I face on the mat as I teach various poses. And so I didn’t spend a lot of time on the mat working stuff out in my free time beforehand. I did dream up a few intro theme ideas and a fun bits to use if the crowd were to turn out simpatico, and reviewed some sequences in my mind.
Now there’s always some apprehension before a class. You never really know if you’ve rehearsed enough, or too little, too much. And there’s always the unexpected. Of course some apprehension is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be fun, it can be a form of excitement. It makes you alert. I’ve performed enough in my life to know the drill. However I think I felt just a tad too apprehensive for my liking last night, not sure why. I walked through MacDonald Park, taking a long route from the subway stop. It was a cold, cloudy night, I had to use my warm hoodie.
Some of my plans for the fun bits went out the window when I saw who was there. For example, I wanted to try out a foot race (1). However, I know one of the attendees would have found this too disruptive; she likes to just yogaflow through the class, and she’s a very valued student, so I reckoned I could save that bit for a different class (probably Friday). But it was a swell sized class. And there were quite a few students Ireally enjoy seeing.
I arranged my stuff, said hi to the assembled, and demonstrated the first reposeful pose I wanted them to start with.
There was one woman who looked vaguely familiar, maybe I had seen once before, not recently. She had a skeptical look in her eye, at least it felt that way to me. She looked very bright, and she wasn’t a stranger to yoga. Usually I’ll go up and introduce myself to new students, but this night I just felt like getting right to it, so I put that off. And then as we went on there was just something in her demeanor which I couldn’t crack, so I left her to her space. Perhaps this was the wrong strategy. But hell you just can’t be everything to all people all the time, right Abe? My struggle was to keep her skepticism from throwing me off center.
This is a philosophy of performing that I haven’t perfected, but it’s been on my mind for a long time. Many years ago I saw a band from London playing to a fairly small crowd; I knew the band so I was there when they began their set, early on. And the singer was terrific, she knew how to play an audience, and what I noticed was how she played to the energy. She bounced in front of the people who were with her. And this became infectious, and then more people showed up and saw the energy, and by the end of the set they were rockin’ the house.
Now I’m now saying that a yoga teacher needs to rock the house. Sometimes that’s not what it’s about at all. And I don’t believe in not paying attention to everyone in the room. But one can build on the energy of the ones who are into it.
At first I wasn’t quite there, I was puzzling with the skeptic, my focus was too much with her. I had a few of these intro notions, the first was to open the floor to any questions about yoga, but this didn’t get a response. I couldn’t quite get to the next part of my planned intro in my head, so I fell back on some of the usual start-off patter. (This is not to say that I check out and deliver a stock speech; it’s always different.) But I do have to admit that I was a wee bit disappointed with my opening.
I began to bring myself into the teaching space. I had them all sigh together at one point, to rebalance the nervous system (as they say), and to relieve tension, and it worked for me too. I started to find my groove, and shift focus to the work and to the students I know and love (in discreet fashion, of course!).
There was only one other awkward moment, at least for me. I have no idea if anyone noticed at all. We were sitting in Virasana. This is a bit technical but bear with me. I knew I wanted to get to Garudasana arms in this seat eventually, but not right away. So I conjured up a bit I learned from Jason, part of his Zen yoga routine, but usually I do it from Prasarita Padonttanasana, ending the sequence with interlocking fingers and then bending forward into “C”. In the moment I thought, shit, this isn’t where I want to be. I had them bow forward anyway, but it really wasn’t the activity I’d intended. Now it’s hard to know if it was really a wrong move. Maybe it worked for some folks, who knows? It did set up the next pose. But it wasn’t where I wanted to be, and it didn’t really make too much sense to me.
However that was the only bit that please God won’t ever be repeated and everything else was smooth sailing, at least from my point of view. One older lady, Dora, had trouble with some of the poses but I was there for her. My front row consisted of lovely ladies who are proficient and enthusiastic, and it’s good to have those smiles in the front row. And the cool-down was nice, a good smooth landing I thought. Afterward in the reception area Sandy said, “Wow that was a fun class!” That was very sweet of her. I too had a good feeling about it altogether (despite the few disappointments, but it’s always nice to get that sort of feedback.
It’s funny about teaching and the ego. On the one hand, teaching yoga is only about me to the extent that it’s about me getting out of the way of the yoga, just letting the brilliance of yoga slide on through. At its best, I’m an instrument being played in the moment, by the yoga. However as an ego(tist), I want to be a better instrument. I want to be all I can be as a teacher. So there’s that human struggle, the human side which wants to improve, which evaluates. And I think both perspectives are necessary and inevitable. So I write about it, to figure out whatever I can about how to improve.
(1) Okay, I know “foot race” doesn’t sound yogic. Here’s my idea, which I’ve used before in a class, but only with kids yoga. To set up a balancing sequence I’ll divide the attendees into two groups, reminding them that yoga is non-competitive BUT we have to break rules sometimes. Then we’ll clear off a space through the middle of the room, and gather on one wall. I’ll have teammates introduce (always a good thing) and I’ll say we’re going to walk the high wire. So I want a person from each team to walk as if on a tightrope to the opposite wall; on the way down they will have their shoulders forward in a slump, and on the way back they’ll walk with shoulders back, good posture. They’ll tag team to the last person (if it’s an odd number I’ll be one of two last competitors). Then I’ll announce on the final lap that in yoga the slowest always wins. Ha! (Any students reading this who happen to be there, please play along!)
(2) Thanks to Jennifer Cosentino who took photo at Yoga Journal Conference marketplace.