Sunday, September 1, 2013

Feets of Clay

OK, well if we can posit ahead of time that the only proper response to the question "Do you think you'll keep it off?" (coming from an acquaintance after hearing about your ten pound weight loss in the wake of your dad's illness and death.) Is a stunned silence, followed by a gurgled, "What?"  Then I think I did OK.  Of course I still wake up in the night, months later wishing I had had the wherewithal to have asked the woman, "Did you seriously just say that?"  I'm hoping the shocked look on my face said that for me.

This summer has been filled with tough moments, dealing with the stuff my dad left behind and the family drama that goes along, my little girl running away from home (OK, fine, starting college, semantics, whatever), and the difficult realization while trying to finish my yoga teacher training that many, many fitness people (yes, even the yoga ones) are narcissitic asshats one really doesn't want to spend all that much time around.  The above mentioned acquaintance is in my teacher trainee group and that was her one question to me once I returned to training. 

I love yoga, it makes me feel good in my body and in my head, and I want to teach because I want to help bring that feeling to other people.  But learning to teach has made me see that a lot of what passes for yoga is teachers pretending to teach yoga.  They say all the right words, but they don't believe them.  Or they think they believe them, but their actions prove otherwise.  Worse, some teachers don't even do that, they are so wrapped up in getting to "perfect" they don't remember anything else about the practice.  It becomes about fitness, not yoga. Which is fine, I just think it should be called something else.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not really much of a purist about anything, but I do think if you can do the moves without any true understanding of the head, you are doing gymnastics or dance or some other kind of exercise, but not yoga.  And if you want to do that, great, but then don't pretend to be doing otherwise.  I've observed a number of teachers this summer as part of my training and many would say the right thing, "be on your own mat," "listen to your body," but then do things that countermanded that - pointing out another student's perfect form, pushing people past where was comfortable or sometimes even safe - going for the goal rather than being in the moment. Some were better than others, some made me despair at the state of American yoga practice.

Then in my last observation, I came upon a teacher, a Rye YMCA teacher - not a fancy studio person, but an ordinary teacher-person.  Not young, not old, in good/average shape, but certainly not perfect, nice voice, but not super-commanding, who as I observed her class, exemplified TEACHER to me.  When she complimented people on taking the time to do "their" yoga, she really meant "their" yoga.  She spoke to the beginner and expert on their own terms, didn't compare them and definitely didn't encourage them to compare themselves, subtly or otherwise.  She was at peace, funny, sweet, breathing and celebrating being there at that moment, and was showing everyone in her class how to be the same.

And she gave me hope, that I could be a teacher without being perfect, that I could look around and take what I needed from the people I learned with without having to do things someone else's way (never one of my strong suits), that if I was going to be brave enough to stand in front of a class and be the teacher, it was ok to do it in a way that honored my yoga which is a little about fitness and a lot about feeling good.