Today’s morning class was a lot of fun, for me, and I hope for the students.
Last night I was transcribing the interview I did a few days ago with Tzahi Moskovitz and I was thinking a lot about a certain passage in which he talks about teaching for the student. (The interview will be published as part of my new project within a few months, but I’m going to give you a preview here:) “Another thing I really appreciate is when a teacher is able to be present but not overpresent, if that’s a word, so that the class is not about your agenda. It’s one of the amazing things that James [Murphy] told us in training, it really is not about you. You know as teachers when we get confused we can think it’s about us. So while we are there being of service and we can use ourselves, from the basic way of demonstration, to instruction, adjustment, personality, the gazillion ways in which you are involved in the class as a teacher, that is not about you. There’s a million ways in which a yoga teacher can manage to make the class about them. It’s important the teachers are able to be there, present. Otherwise we don’t go to class, otherwise you just practice at home, which we do all the time, which is great, but when you go to class obviously you want the eye of the teacher, you want the sequence, these are things you want. The best teachers allow you – or help, actually, not just allow you – to create a space for yourself in class, rather than making it about them, what they want, or how they sequence, or how great this is or how bad that is or what they just realized or what they just learned – even though obviously these are true things, we have just learned or just realized or this just came up for us — but as a teacher there’s a moment when you have to look at the class and ask yourself is this about me or them?”
So I really wanted to ask myself that question today so before I went in I set my intention to really see my students and truly try to serve them in every way I could. I decided to ask them what they wanted to do, if there were any “special requests from the audience.” Sometimes they respond weakly, just wanting the lesson to happen to them, and that’s okay, but I thought I’d try today. I know by now that I can at least attempt to fulfill any requests, improvising according to their needs, and that’s a good feeling. So after I asked, Laura, originally a pre-natal student of mine, said she’s still experiencing pain in her shoulders from breastfeeding, so I noted that. I’d taught an arm, shoulder, upper body focused class Monday, so this was easy to slot in. Evelyn mentioned lower back, so I asked her what worked for that, for her, and she said, twists.
I remember when I was in teacher training, one session was called Looking At Bodies. And I have to admit the man in me thought something along the lines of: “Oh boy, yeah! I’ve got some experience there! This should be fun!” And it was, but looking at bodies and really seeing as a teacher is a specific art, you really do have to see, to be there, present, to know what you’re looking at, what could be changed in a pose, what should be maintained. And I don’t think it’s only a matter of seeing the physical body, you need to assess the purpose of the shape and the purposiveness, the attitude, the mental and emotional bodies as well.
So this morning I felt that I had some insight, I was cultivating a heightened awareness of the people in the class. I always try to see them clearly, of course, but I looked even more this time, and I let my words and actions help create a space which was about them, at least I hope so, one never really knows. And the pieces of the sequences seemed to fit together nicely, some of it was off the cuff but it seemed somehow right. There was a new Japanese student who hardly spoke any English, and I felt like she followed effortlessly (and she appreciated it when I counted some breaths out in Japanese).
I’m reading Parker J. Palmer’s “The Courage To Teach.” Long story short, reading it has been slow-going recently. I can’t put my finger on why my enthusiasm got curbed a ways into the book. It just seems a bit precious at times, he’s invoking the soft, vulnerable heart just a bit too much, too sentimentally maybe, for my taste. But on the train home this morning I read his story of the Student from Hell, which was a good story. He concludes the chapter talking about someone named Nelle Morton having said “that one of the great tasks in our time is to ‘hear people to speech.’…What does it mean to listen to a voice before it is spoken? It means making space for the other, being aware of the other, paying attention to the other, honoring the other.”
Sounds like a plan!