If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your own path. – Buddhist saying
At this time of year, my children are tired of being students. Stricken with spring fever, their daily homework assignments seem onerous. They’d rather be doing pretty much anything other than studying. Yet the tests and quizzes keep coming – a seeming incessant reminder that there are still three more weeks left in the school year.
My son, in particular, is having a hard time staying on task. In a last ditch effort to help him stay focused, I turned the tables on him. Instead of asking him to do even more math problems as he prepared for his weekly geometry quiz, I asked him to teach me. What a difference! His entire demeanor changed. As he took me through the chapter, he paused to gather his thoughts before explaining each theorem. He flipped back to a preceding section to double check that he’d accurately understood a concept. He was patient with my questions. He was careful and methodical as he answered me.
But the best part of all surprised both of us. As he explained several theorems pertaining to the arcs and angles within a circle, I could actually see a new light of understanding in his eyes. He was smiling broadly and speaking excitedly as he showed me how he’d just realized that the theorems worked together. By using them together he was able to figure out more about a circle than he’d ever thought possible. I believe he actually used the word, “Cool!” It was by stepping into the role of teacher that my son rekindled his love for learning. The act of teaching helped him deepen his own understanding of the material.
While this has certainly been my experience as a yoga teacher, I am grateful that my experience with my son highlighted it. I believe my passion for learning more about yoga on and off the mat has continued for as long as it has in no small part because of my students. Their questions and thoughts about the practice have inspired me, pushed me and led to questions of my own. Working with my students week in and week out has kept me curious in my own practice, has helped me continue to read and study, and has driven me to seek additional time with teachers of my own. In short, my role as a teacher has helped me continue to be an active, engaged student.
As my son discovered, you don’t have to be a trained and certified teacher to teach someone. More importantly, you don’t have to be a teacher to receive the gifts of teaching. This is true for all of us. Take a moment and think of your friends. I bet each of us has a relationship or two that feel somehow deeper than others. For me, these are friendships steeped in long, winding conversations. In these special relationships, my friends and I are alternately student and teacher. No matter who is wearing which hat, we both learn from the give and take of our conversations. That said, I am continually surprised at how much I learn when I’m in teacher mode. My desire to make my thoughts and ideas clear to my friend often leads me to a clarity I was lacking before we started talking. In teaching, I begin to truly understand.
Practicing yoga reveals another teaching role that we experience. At one time or another, every yoga teacher I’ve ever studied with has encouraged the class to listen to their “inner teacher.” Your inner teacher is the part of you that is constantly evaluating what you’re learning. Sometimes we’re ready for what our teacher is teaching and sometimes we’re not. Our inner teacher determines whether following our teacher’s suggestion to go deeper in a stretch is a good idea, whether trying a new posture is smart, and whether or not we’ve take our body to its edge. As a teacher, I often sincerely say to my students that their inner teachers are better attuned to their capabilities and needs than I will ever be able to be.
While this is important work in helping us continue to grow and to stay safe on our mats, this is not the best part of learning to trust our inner teacher. It is as we filter, ponder and question all that we learn, that our inner teacher helps us reach a clearer understanding of the material with which we’re working. Each time the light of a new understanding brightens out path, our passion for learning is reinvigorated. Each time we gain a new perspective, our inspiration to continue learning and growing is reignited.
If we’re really lucky, we’ll get to share our newfound understanding with someone else. This will surely draw us even further along our path as students. And, unlike my kids in late May, this is something I’ll never get tired of.
“If you would thoroughly learn anything, teach it to others.” – Tryon Edwards
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