Paying it Forward: A Thank You to my teachers

People ask me what my favourite part of teaching is, and I would say that it would be when students realize that they can do anything.  ANYTHING.

Why?  Because I know that feeling, too.  It’s utterly intoxicating.  There’s just no greater feeling.

To me, a very important part of teaching yoga is trust.   In my experience, students move forward more bravely when they trust the teacher – when they feel their progress actually matters.  Sharing the joy of progress also fuels  more growth down the road.

The past couple of classes I’ve taught, I’ve witnessed several major (physical) breakthroughs in the regulars.  Had it not been unprofessional, I would’ve jumped for joy in the hot room for them.  An even better part is when the students are in shock of what they had just done!  In those moments, I cease to exist, it is all about them.  As their vulnerability lay in a puddle of their own sweat, their inner power grows.   I don’t know who wouldn’t humbled by witnessing that.

I’ve had amazing teachers who helped me find those moments, those breakthroughs in my practice.   The only way I know how to thank them properly is to give the same to my own students.  And as a reminder to my fellow teachers…one day you may inspire a student to return your good will to others.

As I continue to teach, I pay it forward in gratitude.  I encourage you all to do the same.  Your world will be better for it.

Advertisements

‘The biggest challenge in the practice of yoga…’

‘…is to be present. And if you’re present, even if you do the same thing 10x, every time should feel unique so there is never repetition.’

~ Luiz Veiga, Ashtanga teacher

My current Everest

A few years after I started practicing yoga, I started to notice little habitual movements I had formed in class.  I would scratch my head during awkward/utakatasana, take an extra breath or three before lifting my leg in eagle/garurasana, and the biggest tick of all, suddenly becoming tired right before rabbit/sasangasana when I had been just perfectly fine a few seconds before (and then skip a set).

Despite becoming aware of them, some of these ‘ticks’ continued.  Fortunately, as a teacher, I am forced into facing my own weaknesses and quirks.  Because one thing I never wanted to be was hypocritical when I would ask students to challenge themselves.

So as part of my ‘service’ in this yoga progression, I will share with you what I am working on right now.

I have always struggled in rabbit, hence my reaction to it in class. I would look on with sadness when people are able to get the posture correctly because I wanted to feel so badly what they felt in the posture too.  When I am in it, I feel like a drowning rat.  Tucked chin, compressed belly, holding onto the heels, while sweat is dripping in my nose.  Yay.  Not.

Earlier this year, I’ve decided to dedicate more time in understanding the posture and let go of my built up limitations (long spine, horrible forward bends, the list goes on..).  Finally, I felt that extension of the spine I never had before!  Although it was short-lived, I was able to taste and feel what I was missing out on for almost six years.  Six years!!!

With the decision to open myself up to rabbit (figuratively and literally), I started picking up knowledge that I ignored in the past.  Like earlier this evening, a fellow teacher with similar woes sent me some notes from a senior teacher’s seminar (thanks, Jo) and instead of having an avoidance reaction, I am excited to try them!

So maybe I was supposed to feel like a drowned rat until I let go of my inhibitions.  Who knows.  But I do know that I have new things to try in my next class.

And perhaps this post can inspire you to let go and try something that’ll challenge you.  You never know what you may discover 🙂

Gloria Suen, 2012 International Yoga Champion

Gloria Suen, 2012 International Yoga Champion

Photo courtesy of IYSF.

A Quote

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ~ Virginia Woolf

There is no try.

I can’t remember a specific moment or injury that caused weakness in my left knee.  I also can’t remember when I finally attempted toe stand years ago.  Every class since, I’ve tried padangustasana, and every class, I’ve fallen out or released the left side of the posture because of pain (including in teacher training).

Yesterday, for the first time in a very long time, I thought, what if I stayed in tree. But because of habit, or years of practice, or the need to do the series as a whole, I went in even while still contemplating about not doing it.

Let me rephrase that – my body was doing things my mind was saying it could not or would not do.

My body, so disciplined in this yoga, went ahead and left my mind in the tiring debate of ‘to do or not to do’.

While this was just one posture, it was the one to show me what a regular practice has done for me.  It isn’t to help me be incredibly flexible, or build the strongest body but to eliminate the cant’s and the wont’s.  Who would’ve thought that was toe stand’s benefit?

In the words of Yoda, ‘Do or do not. There is no try.’ 

Strangers

As yoga teachers, we see many people in our classes.  My regulars downtown?  The die-hard yogi, the dancer, the athlete.  The lawyer, the soccer mom, the hippie, the banker, the walking Lululemon advertisement.  They’re all there.

Today, I had a group of strangers.  Strangers to me because I had just started teaching at a new studio north of the city.  Strangers because I didn’t know their bodies or their names.

I was excited to teach because it was something new.  Never could I have imagined what I would take home with me today.

As class went on, it had become apparent that these group of strangers weren’t like my regulars:  the husband whose toes wouldn’t touch together no matter how many times he tried, his wife who was every bit his partner across the room, the mother and daughter who practiced side by side, and the 60-yr old jubilant lady with the smile who kept on wiping her sweat guiltily in between postures.  And these strangers were teaching me something.

How exactly were they teaching me when it was I who stood on that podium, speaking dialogue and directions?  Well, as the husband attempted to bring his feet together for umpteenth time and the jubilant lady sat down to catch her breath, they both smiled.  They smiled at me despite the sheer effort that I know it took just to get through this tough practice.

Teachers know that the poses aren’t the object, but the body.  Most students do not.  But these strangers, my beautiful strangers, their effort wasn’t for the full expression of the poses, a locked out knee, or how good they looked in Lululemon shorts.  Their effort was for themselves, fuelled by the sheer determination that maybe one day the feet will touch.  And that if that day never does come in their lifetime, they will still continue to try.  And they will continue to smile along the way.

After I finished the class, the jubilant lady came up to me and said that she found my voice inspiring, so she tried her ‘best’.  I was humbled and in shock, not for the flattery, but because she has no idea just how much she had inspired me with those words.

She tried her best.  

I had been so excited to teach, when it was a group of strangers who taught me more than I could ever have imagined in 90 minutes.

A quote

“I was raised to believe that excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism. And that’s how I operate my life.”

Oprah Winfrey