One of the most important lessons I got in teaching yoga had nothing to do with my teacher training.
I was volunteering at the North Valley Senior Center here in Albuquerque. Those yogis taught me about community, practicality, triumph and longevity. And one of my lessons came at a moment of my own failure.
Yogis of every size, shape and experience level were a part of this class and over months I taught them basic Sun Salutations and variations.
Or so I thought.
After about 9 months of twice weekly 90 minute classes - and most of these yogis were very dedicated - I decided to come in and ask them to begin the Sun Salutation series on their own so I could come through for individual feedback and consultation. I stood at the back of the room and awaited the flood breath and motion.
Only a trickle flowed. A hesitant, confused trickle of people looking at one another and making motions - some of them related to Sun Salutations, but mostly shrugging of shoulders and Scooby faces.
I had failed them.
All I had taught them was to look at me and follow. True, this alone had gotten them to some pretty cool places; the stories of mobility and activity regained through the practice had awed me and moved me to tears. But following meant they were reliant on me or some other teacher. I knew from teaching Philosophy at Mizzou and EMS at UNM's EMS Academy that real learning leads to independence, not dependence. Indepent, successful, inspired people return for more from interest and commitment. Reliant people cannot make the most of their efforts and miss out on everything you have to share.
This wasn't a popular philosophy with the studio where I taught and I realized I would have to break some pretty sturdy molds to create a teaching practice with this philosophy. But those dedicated yogis of the North Valley Senior Center were up to be my guinea pigs - they loved the practice and when they learned that I believed they could have independent practices, they flourished.
I didn't perfect my style while I still volunteered there, but I began. I'm not much for perfection but I'm on fire for revision. Responsive iteration is what I like to call it: put it out there, see how people respond, respond to how they use it, how they stumble, how they triumph. It means you're never done, but I dig that kind of work.
I did start a blog where I shared each week's practice plan with alignment tips and recorded my very first audio. Tech has come so far that now I can record every single class within minutes post it for followers. I can create special classes for busy people to nurture their classes. And design special practices for individuals.
And what North Valley Senior Center Yogis taught me is that seeing someone else practice doesn't help you learn very much after you've got foot and arm placement. Learning to listen - to respond to how things feel as you try them, to feel your own body in space without matching it to someone else's, to imagine how words correspond to feelings and actions in your body - is the project of yoga. When you listen, you feel. When you feel you connect and you possess what you do. You can repeat it, change it, ask questions about it because it's really yours. It may not be perfect, but it will be perfectly yours. And you'll revise it next practice - that's what practice is: vision, revision, feeling, reponding, revision.
That's why I share only audio. Have your practice, don't watch someone else's. I'm listening - what would you like me to hear?