One of my newer students, the lovely Kelly, gave me some wonderful food-for-thought today via her blog. From her very first class, I could see Kelly was a thoughtful student–she asked excellent questions, and gave good feedback verbally and physically when spoken to. So it didn’t surprise me when she later told me she was herself a teacher; she teaches yoga. While I have heard nightmare stories from other teacher’s experiences, I have found that some of my best students are teachers. They know what it takes to teach, and what is expected in a student. They are respectful and attentive, and my favorites: punctual and ask perceptive questions!
I have been reading some of her older entries this morning, particularly her older entries talking about her time as an officer in the Air Force. I came across her post about the first time she taught yoga, and I thought you might enjoy her insightful reflections on what it means to be a teacher. Enjoy!
I remember the first time I taught yoga. I was deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was December of 2002 and I’d been there for a couple of weeks. I’d finally plucked up the courage to take my yoga mat and my copy of David Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual to the gym so that I could practice. I had informally practiced Ashtanga for a little while (using this book, a couple of classes, and a DVD), and brought the book along so that I could practice the Primary Series whilst deployed. At the time I wasn’t sure if the book would get confiscated upon entering the Kingdom, due to the near-nakedness of Mr. Swenson in the photos (he wears the traditional “Iyengar undies” – sorry I can’t find a link, but they basically look like a cotton diaper cover, with elastic legs and waist). So I snuck the book in. :-p
Anyway, I’d been spotted practicing in the gym and was asked if I would teach a class. Apparently there had been a lot of interest shown in having a yoga class, but there was no one to teach. I hadn’t had any teacher training, so when asked if I would be the teacher I promptly and decisively said “No.” I was reluctantly swayed, however, after we reached an agreement that participants in the class would be told that I was “leading them through a practice, not teaching them yoga.” I felt very strongly about that, because while I knew that I could play Yoga Simon Says with whomever showed up, I knew that I lacked the skills to safely and appropriately teach to each individual’s ability and needs. That concept is one of my guiding principals, and I’m thankful that even back then I recognized the important difference between going through some yoga moves with a yoga-bot at the front of the class and being taught the art and science of yoga by a trained, professional teacher.
Classes went well – twice a week – until the war got under way and my work schedule made it impossible for me to teach. That experience underscored for me the importance of having adequate teacher training – not just having experience practicing yoga – before truly becoming a teacher. Also, I may be the only yoga teacher who can honestly say that her first classes were taught while she was at war, and mean it figuratively as well as literally.