Just plain yoga

A few days ago I met with a yoga client for the first time. This was also her first time doing yoga at all, so it was a lot of just “put that foot here, and this foot there, and your hands like this, and now you’re doing it!”

She mentioned to me afterward that it was nice not to be inundated with technical terms, and that she had actually been really nervous leading up to our session. Her doctor told her to start doing yoga years ago, but she was so intimidated by the more “woo” aspects of it that she always shied away. So she was pleasantly surprised by the simple “knee bone’s connected to the leg bone” instruction.

Many years ago when I was in teacher training, the leader said something I found compelling: “Never forget that you’re invested on a different level than they are”, she’d say.

For example, depending on how deeply (and where) they are invested in their yoga practice, they might not care that the Sanskrit name for a certain pose is Matsyasana. In fact, even Fish pose might not register as anything noteworthy yet. Maybe all they want to know right now is where their elbows go and whether this pose will make them fart.

But I didn’t really get what this compelling statement truly meant, yet.

In my teaching I tend not to use pose names or get esoteric with it at all until they’ve had a few sessions… until they are a little more invested… but it wasn’t always that way.

When I first started teaching, in spite of having been told early on that I’m “invested on a different level”, I went about meticulously using each Sanskrit pose name throughout my classes, and over-instructing each and every little thing to a fine degree. For some reason. Beginner class or not.

I truly don’t know why I did this; as a student I don’t care too much about the Sanskrit names really, and they certainly don’t win the teacher any points in my eyes for using them. When I was a brand new learner, they even kind of made me mad actually. Also I didn’t need to provide 20 instructions per pose; the average beginner is good with 3-5. I had been taught this, we’d been over this. I knew this. And yet.

I think I just wanted people to know they had a teacher who studied, who took this seriously for them. At this point I was still extremely nervous before every class I taught. I had terrible stage fright that I was trying to get over, so I over-prepared. I planned every second out. I doubled down on the investment when I didn’t need to. Basically it was over-invested me, asking newly-invested them, along on a ride that felt wrong to everyone.

In 2010 I had been a yoga teacher for 2 years and was considering opening a studio. I was still teaching in this super structured way but I had grown comfortable with the process I’d created for myself, and had built a good following in my classes, so I was getting there bit by bit.

Having lunch one day with Doug, I asked him what he thought about opening a studio. He told me he thought it was a good idea but that I should name it Just Plain Yoga. There was a whole swath of people out there who could benefit from and were interested in yoga, but that they were scared off by the Shivas and the OMs and the Matsyasanas of it all. They just needed to know where their foot goes for now, thanks.

This conversation was a game changer for me. Suddenly I understood exactly what my teacher had meant in teacher training. I immediately changed my teaching style to be more conversational and approachable, more “me”, and along with that came a degree of ease I had not experienced with teaching thus far. I had found my groove. Just plain yoga.

Indeed I was invested on a completely different level. Always had been. This made the basics, the things I learned 20 years ago and could (and did) do with my eyes closed, the things I learned as a beginner myself of course, the perfect things to teach almost anyone.

We’re all just at varying checkpoints on the same path. But instead of honoring that, I’d been carefully choreographing these classes, leading up to these impressive poses (always give them an easy thing, and a thing they can’t do yet!) that only a select few actually “got”. So many never really connected with it because I was trying to give them something they couldn’t appreciate yet.

Never forget that you’re invested on a different level than they are.

There’s so much freedom in that idea, for so many teachers.

Your whole heart’s in there, maybe.

The “approachable” thing is easily my most common piece of feedback, has been for years now, and it’s also my most appreciated. It means after all this time I still respect your level of investment and I also respect my own, and that we have found a groove between us. We see each other, and we “get” each other. We can communicate more effectively by honoring where each other is at.

So much of teaching yoga has nothing at all to do with poses. Reason #85 why I love it.

And no, in spite of my best efforts I was never able to get him to see the humor in his accidental almost Spaceballs reference. Though he loved me like a daughter, he always really hated my taste in movies. 

*****

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