The notion of community is an element that ancient Eastern yogis held as both important and dear [satsang], but that many modern-day Western practitioners like to minimize. While it is healthy for most yoga students to not get caught up with comparing one’s practice (or self) to other people, at the same time it is healthy for individuals to be concerned with the welfare of other beings that comprise one’s community. One way we as individuals can demonstrate care and compassion for those around us is by setting aside some of our preferences, and supporting others in some of their endeavors.
Two yoga studios that are very special to me (one got me started in an established yoga practice, and one opened my eyes to the entire path of yogic experience) each have a Friday evening donation-based class that is taught by teachers-in-training. I attended one of those sessions about a year ago, and after 60 minutes of muddled instructions and uncertain adjustments, I left the class feeling frustrated and irritated (which is not a great way to leave a class in a discipline that is intended to promote calm, focus, and [in a ‘perfect’ world] some inner peace). I know that teaching yoga is challenging, that every teacher-in-training has to start somewhere, and that some students have to be willing to serve as ‘guinea pigs’ for that teacher-trainee in order for the individual to become a good teacher – but man, the process can be painful (for both the teacher-in-training and his/her students alike). Can’t someone else be the ‘practice’ student instead of me?
The short answer: No. The slightly longer answer: If everyone took the attitude of ‘why can’t someone else do it?’, nothing in the world would ever get better. So I somewhat hesitantly made the decision to put “Attend a yoga teacher-in-training donation class” on my 101 list. While I had been to such a class at Studio #2, I had never supported these efforts at Studio #1.
Last Friday I had no other commitments on my calendar and no real plans for my evening, so I decided to take advantage of the open time and complete item #51.
As it was the Friday before Christmas, I wasn’t sure how full the class would be. I could envision two possible scenarios:
- People would be very busy in a few days, so they might want to take a yoga class now (since they probably wouldn’t get to a session within the following week); or,
- People would be getting ready to head out of town for the holiday (or they might already be on their way to a destination), so they wouldn’t be able to take this evening’s class.
It turned out that the second scenario was the correct one; when I pulled into the parking lot of the yoga studio just ten minutes before the class was scheduled to start, the area was completely empty.
I actually questioned if the class had been canceled; but when I tugged on the yoga studio’s front door it opened, so I went inside. I was greeted with a smile by the teacher-trainee scheduled to give the evening’s class, so I took off my coat and shoes, walked into the main studio, rolled out my yoga mat, and got ready for the session to begin.
After waiting a few minutes past the hour, the teacher-in-training walked into the studio and sat down in front of me. She and I were the only people in the room. I smiled gently at her, and said, “If you would like to cancel this evening’s session, I understand. I won’t be offended if that’s a choice you would like to make.” She assured me that she was more than happy to give a class to any number of people, then asked me if there were any poses I wanted to do or any parts of my body I wanted to focus on. I told her that lately I had been working on a variety of arm balances, and that I always love inversions; but that I was completely open to whatever she wanted to teach. She nodded, thought for a minute, then proceeded to start the session.
Teaching a class to just one person is simultaneously easy and challenging. Delivering appropriate cues and performing adjustments are simplified when the teacher can truly tailor them to a single individual; but if that one student is more advanced in his or her practice than the teacher is, that can be problematic. Unfortunately for this teacher, I was (am) stronger, more flexible, and able to perform more advanced yoga poses than she is. I suspect she felt flustered by the disparity between our abilities; despite my best efforts to follow her instructions to the letter, to offer her ample smiles and nods of encouragement, and to send as much positive energy her way as I could, her pose sequencing was choppy, her verbal cues were confusing (and incorrect in a few instances), and she didn’t offer a single adjustment. Sigh.
During the last fifteen minutes of the session I started to take a few liberties with the poses the teacher-trainee offered, and began adding a few extra ‘challenge’ moves to the basic asanas she cued. She actually seemed quite happy with my improvisations, and during the last five minutes of class she encouraged me to do any additional poses I would like to fit in before final savasana.
At the end of the session, as I packed up my gear and put on my coat, the teacher trainee sincerely thanked me for attending her class. She commented that it’s a lot more fun to teach when there are students in the room, and we both smiled. While the actual class experience was less than stellar, I was able to support a woman who is trying to do some good in our small segment of the world – and that feels very much in line with the spirit of the season, and the spirit of yoga.