Not that long ago I listened to an interview with Judith Lasater about whether or not it was the teachers job to challenge the student. Her reply went something like this:
Well, first of all I think it's important to get clear on what we mean by "challenge". Taking one breath with awareness can be a challenge. And she went on to say that it was important to talk about challenge and the concept of mutuality.
And this is the part that really stuck out to me and truly resonated with me.
She said, "It's not me challenging you. It's me inviting you to challenge yourself in an intelligent, cadenced way. In a gently questioning way. Don't push past your limit-- find where it is and respectfully step back from it a bit. It means inviting the student to explore their own freedom and growth, in their own time and way."
In other words, it's the students responsibility to challenge themselves and grow their own practice. It's the students responsibility to also learn how to take really good care of themselves while on the mat as well as in life.
Yes, of course, I show up to class with a sequence and theme in mind, and I do my best to let my intuition and inspiration guide my teaching on each given day. I do my best to create a class that is balanced and that suits a majority of the students in the room. But, of course, there is no way that I can possibly please everyone in the room with what I have come to offer them. Teaching is challenging to me for sure because you have to be awake and aware the whole time. Your antenna has to be up and on. You have to show up ready to share, ready to hold space, be always willing to learn, teach to what you see, know how to help those who need help, and sit in front of a group of people and speak and teach from your heart. And you have to learn to let go of being liked by everyone and learn not take it personally when someone does not love what you are offering. The latter part of the previous sentence has been the hardest lesson for me to learn because I grew up thinking I needed to be good at everything and that I had to please everyone to be liked and loved. I have finally learned that I will not always be some one's cup of tea. And that's okay.
Anyway, back to the original thought or question. What is my responsibility as the teacher? What is my aim as a teacher? I have to ask myself this question again and again so that I am clear as to why I choose to teach in the first place. First and foremost, I care about the people who come and about the service that I provide to those who show up. I care about the kind of environment I create and the kind of energy I bring with me to class. And personally and responsibly speaking, I think it's vitally important that we think about the kind of messages we are sharing in our classes and that we create an atmosphere of healing and encouragement. Also, I think it's of great importance that we get to know who are regular students are and where they are in their body and practice, and perhaps even where they are in their lives in some way, without being nosey or unethical in any way.
I want to see my students and be able to help when and where I can, as this is my nature and each class is truly an offering from my heart to theirs. And further on this track, I believe it's my responsibility to know what my gifts and talents are as a teacher so that I bring that forward and out with care and confidence. What I do know about myself as a teacher, and in general, is that I am a helper and a healer in my own way. It is my desire to be of service. It is my desire to nurture, inspire, encourage and uplift my students with my energy, my words, and the practices that bring to them. I am not just there to run the class through a series of poses quickly and mindlessly, and send them out the door. Maybe that's okay sometimes, but it's certainly not okay all the time. Mind you, this is my opinion and not a bag on other styles or teachers or any of that sort of thing. It's just the kind of yoga that I want to offer and teach.
The truth is, I see so much more than how well the students do or do not do the poses. I see those who chronically over work and harden in every pose despite my reminders to soften and do less. I see those in the room who have trouble keeping their minds from wandering and then essentially checking out because the mental stamina required while practicing combined with intense tightness or injuries in their body is just too much. And yet they refuse to go to a slower, more beginner friendly class to learn, improve and heal. I see brand new students trying to do the hardest version of the pose possible instead of the one that is better for them just to keep up with the group. I see the person in the room who is full of judgement and opinions about how I should be teaching and, therefore, unable to enjoy the experience if at all. And then I see those students who truly are honest about where they are at in their practice, who sincerely want to learn, who want to connect, who want to really build a practice that heals and helps. And I see the students who effortlessly thread breath and movement together to create a strong, sustainable practice for the long haul. And this inspires me and makes me smile.
I obviously have a lot on my mind regarding the practice of yoga, the job of the teacher, the job of the student, the way and direction in which Yoga in the West is going. Maybe this is all stemming from an article I just read the other night in Yoga Journal about a 21 year old girl who died of a sudden heart attack because she was obsessively practicing and basically starving herself to death, or said another way, anorexic, and said another way, yogarexic. It blew my mind and broke my heart to hear her story.
You can read the article for yourself by going to this link: http://www.yogajournal.com/article/eating-disorders/truth-yoga-eating-disorders/
Anyway, it worries me that the yoga culture is sending the wrong message and bringing no real heart into the classes. Hot Yoga and really hard, fast, intense yoga is so popular in part because people think it will change their body and make them thin, and I suppose it can if you are practicing like a maniac, starving yourself, doing juice cleanses under the guise of good health, and feeding into this idea that yoga will change your life to boot. Hell, I totally get the lure of it all. But what it comes right back to is that it is up to each individual student to make good choices that help to facilitate positive changes in their life. It's up to the individual to create a healthy practice on the mat as well as off the mat, and it's up to each individual to learn the art of taking really good care of themselves. It's up to the student to make their own life better, no the teachers. To put such a responsibility on the teacher is just unhealthy. Also, it's important to remember that student and teacher are equal. We are all just souls living and growing and traveling in this life together. Your teacher is not better than you, the student. Your teacher dose not sit on a little box above you. They sit on the floor in front of you, to see you, to reflect back the goodness and beauty they see in you, and to share the best of what they know right now.
Student and teacher are in it together. I think when we can remember that, a sincere respect, kindness and awareness arises in both parties. Then, what we are offering our students as teachers is healthy and empowering. And what our students offer us back is a deep love and appreciation for the service we actually provide.
Eternally Learning and Growing,