April 19, 2010

I Will Always Love You (A Yoga Teacher Learns Not To Judge A Book By Its Cover)

Annie Carpenter (the teacher’s teacher) and I were talking before class last week about the myriad ways we are humbled through our teaching. Of course there are the big stories that demonstrate inspiring grace: students surviving illness, injury, divorce (another cleanse). Their bravery shows us what it is to be truly aligned and in touch. But there are little day-to-day stories too, and they become a part of our story when they wander into our classroom.

The trick is recognizing these smaller moments, especially when you’ve been teaching for awhile. It’s easy to fall into complacency, where you think you know what people are about and how things are going to go. The good news is, whenever I find myself judging a book by its cover, I’m inevitably proven wrong—over and over and over.

In walks a new student and something tells me he’s hating every minute of it. Forget the fact that he hasn’t said a word—I become certain I’m ruining this person’s experience with yoga. I find myself distracted from my own sequencing, as if I were on an awkward, imploding first date.

We haven’t even gotten to the first course but he looks like he’s going to ask the waiter for the check, I find myself thinking.

To take the date analogy to the next illogical level, he isn’t even someone I would want to “go out with” again, yet I find myself desperate to please him. It’s like I’m fifteen again, waiting by the telephone. When did I become so insecure? Why does it matter so much that I impress him? Others have taken one class and never come back and I really didn’t even notice.

But here’s the great part. Just when I’m imagining the worst case scenario—you know, this angry, traumatized student demanding a refund and/or threatening to report me to the yoga police—he buys the biggest package of classes because he can’t wait to come back.

The book whose title I thought was Disappointed: A Single Class With Andrea Marcum was actually I Like You, I Really Like You.

Here’s another example. A student stretches pretentiously before we begin class, as if anticipating her Fame audition, ready to take on the competition.

Oh boy, I think, you’re here to star in your own video, not really participate in the class at all.

But as the class progresses, I discover she’s wonderfully agreeable, anxious to learn, and happy about the adjustments I administer. Unlike the students who slip under my radar because they were referred by so-and-so, who swat me away (and believe me, I have actually been pretty well clocked) as I come to their aid in a pose that’s an accident waiting to happen.

Then there’s a mountain of a man, who I assume was a linebacker in high school—I just know he thinks yoga is a bunch of chicks stretching. How satisfied I am when he does his first down dog only to discover how much he’d underestimated yoga. I expect him to leave at any minute with a bruised ego, using ancient football injuries as an excuse, but when I look over I see this big, brave, burly man gracefully balancing in ardha chandrasana. Later he’s showing up the bendy girls in urdhva dhanurasana.

Not only did this guy not leave…he became my husband.

One of the things I love most about assembling to do our asana together is how assumptions get challenged. 60 year olds inspire the 20 year olds with their strength, focus and endurance. Aggressive looking practitioners with tattoos and piercings opt to spend most of their time in child’s pose. Things are so often not what they appear to be—it’s just pointless to judge these fascinating books by their superficial covers. My brother sent me the linked video here the other day, and I think it says it all. You just never know who’s gonna be starring in their own video and why.

And Quite a Cover It Is….

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