November 27, 2013

What Every Yoga Teacher Needs to Know How to Say. ~ Jane Henderling

Relephant reads:

The 10 Commandments of Teaching Yoga.

Things I Wish I’d Known About Yoga Teacher Training.

If You Are a Yoga Teacher, Admit it: You are Co-dependent & Needy.

Repeat after me: “I don’t know.”

Does saying those magical three words stir up emotion? Perhaps shame, anxiety, uneasiness? Try saying them again. Somewhere beneath that angst, is there a sense of relief? A hint of surrender and freedom?

I am a yoga instructor and I practice saying, “I don’t know.”

When I first started teaching yoga, one glaring obstacle I needed to overcome quickly was my physical able-ness. I know that may sound strange, but allow me to explain.

I am of the flexible persuasion—super bendy and soft. I don’t build muscle easily, so it took me many years (and a shoulder injury) to learn how to do a proper chaturanga (yoga push-up). Extreme backbends, on the other hand, and hip openers came easily. Maybe this is why I was drawn to yoga in the first place: I could bend and twist and contort with the best of them.

As a yoga instructor, however, my own flexibility had proved limiting. (What do you mean you can’t touch your knee to your nose?!) From the very beginning, it was clear to me that I knew nothing about what it’s like to be in someone else’s body.

I had to pause and evaluate what I really knew.

Our own point of view, as valid as it may seem, is still contained within the limited subjectivity of our own universe, shaped by our environment, our experience, our emotion and cerebral limitations. This pause, this admittance was where I discovered humility. It was the eye-opening moment when I stopped and realized (not for the first or the last time) that I was not the center of the universe.

How do we remove ourselves from the center of our own universe? I don’t know that we can, but we can observe that we stand firmly within it, and in doing so also see the limitations of our own understanding.

This painful and beautiful pause, repositioning myself, or rather, observing myself at the center, knowing I can be nowhere else, blossomed into something greater when I became a yoga teacher, something I find many yoga instructors and the overwhelming yoga industry has trouble admitting: sometimes, we just don’t know.

We need to learn to say “I don’t know” because if we are honest with ourselves, it is the right answer much of the time. After all, everyone’s physical body is different, so how can I generalize what someone may or may not feel or experience?

Sometimes a student will wave me over in class and ask, “Should my sitting bone be on the ground?” or, “Is it okay if I feel it here?” placing a hand on their lumbar spine. I’ve been practicing for over ten years and teaching for nearly as long. I’m certified through Yoga Alliance. I’ve had anatomy training. I am officially qualified to answer these questions (and I’m not talking about the blatantly dangerous maneuvers that could result in injury, the ones in which I hastily make my way over and do the best I can to correct them)…but when it comes down to it, do I really know what is best for her body—her sit bone or his low back? I simply don’t know.

All I can advise is to learn to listen to the subtitles of the body, tap in to intuition. Those voices are never wrong.

Too often, I read articles claiming that yoga can do this or that for you. It can heal this or prevent that. This is the anatomy of this pose, and this is the right or wrong way to do it. Admittedly, there are some very talented and more cerebral instructors out there that actually study the tiny nuts and bolts of anatomy and can say specifically which fascia fibers connect to what, and that can be very helpful—transformative, even. I’m just not that technical. I believe most of us yoga teachers are  of the right-brained variety. We feel for a living.

I also find the idolization of yoga instructors running rampant.

There are instructors with followings, harems, a million friends on Facebook following their every move. That’s cool. But at the front of the room, leading class, journeying with people to their center of themselves, we are often put into a very precarious and powerful position. We must not violate that power by claiming that we are super-human and all-knowing. We most certainly are not.

I am a yoga instructor and I don’t know much.

I do know that the silence on the mat is paramount to anything I may say in class. The answers we’re looking for often reside within that silence, with the subtle voice of the body. It cannot be articulated or explained. It cannot be transmuted or studied. It is just the truth, your own truth, something I know nothing about.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Kathryn Budig.}

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