This is written by guest blogger Kendra Staley. Kendra and I met while both teaching yoga at Orange Sky and working at Kansas State University. We shared a lot of early morning carpool rides to class where our friendship blossomed beyond yoga.
The Joy of Not Teaching Yoga
Now, don’t get me wrong. I really like teaching yoga. I enjoy constructing different classes to meet different student needs. How will this sequence address different parts of the body? How can I provide modifications so that all students can receive the same benefits, even if they are adapting poses due to injury, age, pregnancy, etc? How can I weave in elements of yogic philosophy or spirituality without sounding like some far-out hippy girl (which I basically am) and thereby alienating my down-to-earth, church-going, Kansan yoga students? I would love to talk about chakras, the third eye, and energy lines all while chanting ‘Om’ but fear that most Americans just want to get their physical, not their spiritual, work-out on.
Or, when teaching in other countries, do I make any sense teaching yoga in a foreign language? Are the students looking at me strangely because my language skills and explanation are so confusing, or is it just because I’m white and therefore already bizarre enough? Here’s a prime example of linguistic and cultural confusion, all while trying to teach asana: I taught English for two years in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country in Southeast Asia. My second year there I taught one yoga class per week at the nicest gym in town, whose membership consisted largely of ethnic Chinese-Indonesians, the majority of whom are Christian. Still, the country is influenced by Islam, much as Christian beliefs, holidays, and morals permeate American society. An example of this is that many Muslims, such as Indonesians, believe dogs to be unclean. Even though I knew this, when teaching downward facing dog during Sun Salutations, I used the Indonesian word for dog ‘anjing’. As dogs are considered unclean, calling someone or something ‘anjing’ could be an insult. Later, after talking to a friend whose Indonesian was better than mine, I better understood my students’ laughter in class.
But, all of that mental discussion aside, as many yoga teachers will agree, being a yoga student has a special pleasure when you yourself teach yoga. When I was able to attend yoga classes regularly, while simultaneously teaching my own classes, it was a relief to stop thinking during a yoga class, to remember why I liked doing yoga in the first place. Namely, it feels good and results in me being a much nicer, calmer, reasonable person. Unfortunately, being a yoga teacher and a yoga student at the same time can cause some complications. It’s hard to turn off teacher-mode when taking a class. This can result in making mental notes about sequences that you’d like to include in your own classes, turning a yoga class into a type of observation. For example, a teacher could link a sequence of poses together in a way you hadn’t thought of, or perhaps focus the class on a theme that resonated with you. Or, if the teacher read a religious or thought-provoking quote, from a yogic text or other spiritual source, you might connect well with the underlying meaning of the class, quite apart from any physical benefits received.
While this can be a great way to get new ideas, it can also be frustrating. Part of the appeal of yoga is the focus on the breath and the movement to quiet my ever-active mind. The very nature of asanas in yoga requires a break from the constant (and not always particularly self-loving) voice inside my own head. Not being able to create that distance between always partly being a teacher, even while being a student, can take away some of the very purpose of doing yoga. And, it also makes me grumpy! Analysis and awareness of oneself and surroundings is positive; constant analysis is not. The whole goal of asanas is to quiet the mind and prepare the body to sit and mediate, in order to connect with a Divine Power. An ever-analytic mind gets in the way of this.
When I decided to move to Colombia (South America) to teach English, this meant that I would not be teaching yoga, for a time at least. As mentioned earlier, the first year that I lived in Indonesia, I didn’t teach yoga and welcomed the chance to do so my second year there. My final semester teaching English full-time in Kansas also included teaching 8 hours of yoga classes per week. I was one busy yogini and, frankly, was looking forward to a break from teaching yoga. While I learned a lot about teaching yoga, taking on extra yoga classes that semester meant that my own practice had dwindled from at least four classes a week to two, if I was lucky. (One of the fastest ways to produce an unhappy yoga teacher is one who isn’t able to consistently do their own practice.)
One of the first classes I was able to take as simply a student was Cassi’s in Chicago, at Tula Yoga Studio. It was so refreshing to only concentrate on my own practice, my own breath and movement. I was reminded of how much I love to do yoga. Here in Colombia, I practice regularly at www.yogaglo.com/ and am constantly reminded of what a gift yoga can be. I always, always, feel better after doing yoga. The postures release tension from hunched shoulders due to computer time preparing lessons and grading as well as release tight hips and swollen feet from too much time sitting at a computer or too much time standing in front of the class. Mentally yoga calms and quiets the irrational, unreasonable reactions that happen when physical and mental fatigue occur. And, lastly (truly, most importantly) if a yoga class is really, honestly centered around more than just a work-out, a peacefulness and contentment happens in meditation, akin to the feeling some people have when praying or worshipping. Sometimes the best classes are the ones I really don’t want to take; the days when I force myself to get out my mat are the days that I need it the most.
After living in Colombia for 9 months, I’ve begun to want to teach yoga again. I miss interacting with people on a physical/spiritual level and seeing students find their own practice. That being said, sometimes not teaching yoga is the best thing for a yoga teacher (not) to do!
Kendra Staley has yoga-ed, lived, and traveled throughout 27 countries, on four continents. She’s studied yoga, mainly Hatha and Vinyasa, for 10 years and taught it on and off for 5. Check out her rather outdated yoga blog. If you’re interested in Intercultural Communications, check out her class blog.