December 5, 2012

The Secret of Great Teachers. ~ Peg Mulqueen

During my practice this morning, my teacher came to me in parighasana and shared with me a little trick, I mean technique, for getting a little deeper into the posture.

And, wouldn’t you know it, it worked like a charm.

I wondered from which brilliant teacher she had learned it. Had Kino put out a new Youtube video I somehow missed? Was it David Keil, the guru of all things anatomy? She said, no, it wasn’t either of them.

She learned it the other day . . . in practice.

Turns out, she’s not a big fan of this posture. However, she discovered if she did this little something-something in her own morning routine, it helped her find a more joyful opening.

And so, she did the thing good teachers do—she shared what she learned with me.

Which brings me to the real reason I’m writing. Last week The Confluence Countdown wrote a great blog on what makes a good yoga teacher. And I agreed with nearly every point they made, including that a piece of paper alone simply doesn’t cut it.

But what really struck me was the one component that wove all the other qualities together: practice.

Because good teachers are always students first.

If you haven’t done the exploration in your own body, it is going to be harder to lead someone through their own exploration in their own body. – David Keil

Good teachers practice what they teach—not while they teach, (a serious pet peeve of mine). And I’ll even go a step further and say, good teachers don’t teach what they don’t practice.

I’ve heard teachers argue that they’re such a bundle of knowledge they can actually teach things they don’t/can’t put into play. Really? Any parents out there raising toddlers or teenagers? I don’t know about you, but I’m particularly fond of parenting advice from those who have never lived with either. Especially, when the task at hand is no less difficult than putting a linebacker in kapotasana.

Despite their good intentions, although sometimes even these are questionable, they simply don’t know what they don’t know—and won’t, until they have the actual experience.

I know a local studio owner whose rule it is that to teach for her, you must practice their style in their studio. There was a time I thought she was awful closed minded. I mean, what’s the difference really? It’s all yoga, after all.

Perhaps this is the reason, five years later, she owns a string of successful yoga studios and I just teach a few classes.

But now, you see, I know she’s right. Especially as I watch the number of  Ashtanga classes taught by those who love the name only breed quicker than rabbits mixed in with those taught by fundamentalists who don’t know the first thing about compassion.

The simple fact is, you can call what you’re teaching anything you want. You can wear the right clothes and be the best-looking person on the planet with the ability to stand on one hand. You can even proudly display a certificate and boast yourself an expert, and still be an a$$hole.

There is only one place you will develop in time all of the teaching traits my friends at the Confluence listed, including experience, knowledge, enthusiasm, compassion and the ability to truly understand and explain.

And it’s not in a weekend workshop, a month in Mysore or even a 200-hour training.

Because even good, what to speak of great, teaching isn’t learned—it’s earned . . . earned through your own toil and trouble and your own sweat and tears. And you don’t become great by becoming elite, but rather in remaining humble.

The only one way you earn it all is by remaining a forever student both on your mat, and most especially, in your life.

Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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