July 22, 2012

What Teaching Teaches: What I’ve learned as a Yoga Instructor. ~ Edith Lazenby

My first gig.

I started teaching yoga full time in 2005, after taking the same nine-month training twice. The second time the training was registered with Yoga Alliance. I began teaching part-time immediately. I didn’t have to audition for my first gig; the woman hiring knew my teacher and hired me without question, before the onslaught of teacher training programs everywhere.

I remember the first class well. I knew who I was replacing as I had been her student. She was bendy, strong and skinny. I was heavier and not thin, not too flexible and not all that strong. I think I was scared but I just did my best. I lost some students and got some of my own. I ended up teaching three classes a week at this health club for a few years.

Training never ends because learning is ongoing.

I embarked on more training. Some of us never finish, or at least I don’t. This winter I begin my 300-hour teacher training and by 2013, I will have my 500 hours. I’m interested in learning, as much as possible all the time.

I know teachers often say their best teachers are their students. In many ways that is true. I learned to understand how bodies moved, how to align my students and keep them safe.

When I had my rotator cuff injury I learned to mirror and choreograph my classes because I couldn’t do the asana with my students. In my first training, I did not learn to teach without doing the postures. But I did learn. I learned that once one has an injury even when healed, which can take years, that place in the body will always be a bit more sensitive and vulnerable.

Confidence is necessary.

Teaching takes a certain confidence. In a way it’s like writing, in that I have to believe what I say matters, even if it doesn’t, and even though I know there are million people who write. As a poet, it is the process that holds me. Poetry is like the breath to my spirit.

One time in class, when I was a relatively new teacher , a student came who told me he had several herniated discs. I was terrified. On top of that, he had no body awareness, didn’t understand a bent leg versus a straight leg, how to place his feet or basically where he was in space. My best then was to trust in his body’s wisdom and not offer much. I always tell new teachers that if you don’t know what to do then nothing will suffice.

Asana and energy.

Asana is the easy part, really. Understanding how energy moves in me, between myself and my students and how the students’ energy moves is my next horizon and what I hope to learn more in my next training. It’s part of the curriculum.

Teaching has been the alchemist’s cauldron for me in many ways. I’m married, but without children to mirror and show what I cannot see. I have taught prenatal, baby and me, therapeutics, Vinyasa, Hatha and ages from two to 89 years old. I have taught in gyms and studios and corporate sites.

I teach because I love it. I teach a lot sometimes because I need the money. And there are times I have taught way too much.

I value teaching.

Now I value what I do for a living. I care what I look like on the outside, whereas before I was indifferent at best. I want to give my classes an experience of wholeness. I don’t care if someone is only there for the workout. We all do final relaxation and  get a taste of how we are, and we experience our inner being at some level or another.

In the past two years, I have received more negative feedback than ever before. I know if I were a new teacher I would have crumbled. Some audiences are tougher than others. Yet, when told the same thing by different students in various venues, it is not random or arbitrary.

We are not broken.

One of my teachers would say we are not a problem to be fixed. We are not broken. Yet there have been times, like most who have been around long enough, I felt broken. Talking from my heart didn’t come naturally when I was in my head. Being easygoing is hard when I’m stressed out and burnt out. Looking for the good sounds great yet all I saw were misalignments and imperfections.

Two years ago I realized I am not kapha/vata but I am pitta/vata. I am quick. I am full of fire. I have an edge still. I feel things strongly and deeply and have an intensity that is not always desired. There are many who would just as soon not read a recent poem of mine because of where I go, in the dark, finding my way through image and lyric to learn something; what that is, I never know. The poem shows me.

Teaching is a mirror.

My students have been a great mirror. I have learned to soften. I have learned the value of ease in my delivery when teaching, of ensuring the overall experience is a good one. Sometimes it is better to let the alignment go. Sometimes it is better to say less not more. Sometimes a gentle touch goes further than a verbal cue. Some opinions aren’t meant for the yoga class.

I do my best to give to those who want to learn more detail and to ease others into the practice in a way that serves them, not me.

Teaching is its own practice. The philosophy and ideas behind yoga are many and rich. There is something for everyone.

Too often among teachers, class size and who can do what, when, where and how often all becomes a contest. This lesson I’m talking about is not about being liked as a person or even as a teacher. I cannot be everyone’s flavor.

Respect Is not optional.

What I have learned in this process is that there is a way to show respect for everyone in my class, no matter what. I always say everything is optional. I say you can try my suggestion if you want and if it feels good then do it and if not, do what works for your body.

It is about the student being a student of what she or he wants, be it asana, fitness, meditation, relaxation or philosophy. I have learned that I want to support my students in the way that supports their goals, not mine.

For me, teaching is about the conversation. My job is to listen, learn, share and do my best on any given day.


Edith Lazenby is a full time yoga teacher, trained at City Fitness in Washington, DC, and Willow Street Yoga Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. She has been writing poetry since she was nine years old. Poetry is her first love and yoga continues to feed her heart. She writes because she loves it. She teaches because she loves it. She tells her students all the time: do it because you can. That works for her. She believes in creating opportunity. She believes in helping herself and others. She thinks faith is the most important gift of life, because when we lose everything else we still have that in our heart. She believes the natural state of being is happiness, or bliss, or Ananda. Life is a celebration. Poetry and yoga help her celebrate.

Edith’s blog and website: www.edieyoga.wordpress.com

  Editor: Anne Clendening

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