The past few months I have been celebrating my 10 year anniversary of facilitating yoga teacher training programs. Last month I took some time to share some reflections on the changes I have seen in yoga in the past ten years, and this month I thought I would share a few ideas about my own journey this past decade.
When I first started teacher training, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. To a great extent it was my students who helped me to understand where I needed to learn more, experience more, and develop more. I first began with the usual insecurities of a beginner, and stuck hard and fast to what I had been taught by my own teachers. Over the years, seeing what was working, what wasn’t working, and what (appeared to be) truth, my teaching has changed a lot. Here are a few ways that I teach differently now:
Anatomy. My background in anatomy for fitness might, at first glance, seem like it was helpful in instructing and educating in yoga. However, for many years there was a big gap between my (basic) anatomy knowledge and how I taught yoga. As though, yoga didn’t have to adhere to the same guidelines for functional anatomy, exercise physiology and bio-mechanics as other movement forms. Over the years I have been able to move past that ideological barrier that I was stuck in, and understand that anatomy is anatomy, movement is movement, and the same rules that apply to fitness also apply to yoga. These are rules that we are still learning about, the science of movement is far from complete, but as a teacher I am more comfortable being guided by evidence-based movement. This means that my teaching now aims to respect the need for functional movement, multi-planar movement, the risks of repetitive strain, and the hazards of excessive flexibility and excessive effort in asana. When I first began as a teacher trainer, there was one book on anatomy (thank you David Coulter) now there is a whole world of yoga anatomy that informs, inspires, and encourages the bridging of the gap between biomechanics, exercise physiology, movement science, and yoga.
Asana. As a new teacher trainer, I was very much stuck in the idea that poses had to be performed the way that my teachers had taught me, regardless of what the student was feeling, regardless of what I was seeing, and regardless of the above-mentioned functional movement principles. I just didn’t have the confidence to step away from the dogma of my tradition to explore alternative ways of movement. Over the years, I did find the confidence to step away from tradition (or what I thought was tradition) and teach to what was happening now for each student. Funnily enough, my own teachers who I followed with rigid attention are also changing the way that they approach asana. Modern physical/postural yoga is evolving, and I am excited to continue to explore this evolution as we bridge the gap between yoga and movement science.
Spirituality. When I first began teaching yoga I admit that it was a time in my life where I was very confused, and was vulnerable to the kind of superstitious magical thinking that can sometimes pervade the spirituality of yoga and metaphysics. It has taken a lot of time, a lot of reflection, and a lot of study for me to come to this particular place where I can say with confidence, I don’t know. I don’t know how the chakras and nadis work. I don’t know what it means if your left knee hurts. I don’t know why my dog knows when I’m just starting to consider taking a walk or my Mom calls just when I’m thinking about her. What I do know is that at this stage I am comfortable with not knowing. I can leave some question marks in these areas without having to bypass critical thinking or evidence-based practice, but also without having to disregard anything that science can’t provide an answer to (yet). It has been a hard journey to let go of my wish that I could just put the spiritual aspects of practice into boxes and colour-coded charts and trust the work of those who came before me. But, the more I let go of my need for answers, the more I enjoy this particular stage in my spiritual journey. I have no answers, I have a lot of questions, and while that can sometimes be uncomfortable, what is more uncomfortable for me is passing on a dogma that really only seems to serve a privileged minority.
Celebrating this milestone of 10 years of teacher training has been a wonderful opportunity for me to reflect, process, and explore my own relationship with yoga. Who knows what I’ll say about yoga, the role of the teacher trainer, or about my spiritual path in another decade, but for now, I am enjoying an experiment in experience.