Q: My teacher training is raising more questions about my practice than I anticipated, but I am sticking with it.
I have some questions about sequencing classes in general-when you started teaching, did you choose a final master asana and work toward that? A body part or system and design a class around that? How and where do you decide to start?
A: Good for you for hanging in there with your training! Teacher training really put me through the paces – lots of questioning and self observation, and certainly experiences that were hard to sit with – especially experiences of myself.
For teaching, my personal practice is central and irreplaceable. Although many approaches interest me, I investigate the conventions without hewing to dogmatic formulas and rules, because when it comes to putting together a yoga class, it’s like Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Practice and preparing to teach are different one day to the next. For example, I’ll warm up, then do one “anchor” posture over and over with a different counter posture after each repetition. This gives me a more complete understanding of my responsiveness in a posture, and makes it clear where I have more and less neuromuscular strength, what are my internal bargains and relationships.
We tend to talk about attention
as though it were a so-called “mental” activity. But in practice I can feel where I’m attending in individual muscles and coordination. This helps me not to mistake fervor for presence or blankness for calm, and because practice fosters neuro-instantiation (“getting it in the body”) it carries over nicely into my daily life.
In other words, I plan classes by moving, not by thinking. It’s concrete, in the body, not abstract or in “the rules.”
Many of my practices involve hanging around in postures
coming in and out slowly and repeatedly, feeling the distinctive sensations of engagement. Some days I might choose to move repeatedly through an anchor posture adding one additional posture each time until there’s a sequence that feels whole.
When that happens, I finish by going back and planning warm ups to support the flow. Sometimes I’ll try out language – out loud – and then go back and really do exactly what I’m saying to see if it produces a sound result.
I spend about fifteen minutes doing warm ups or preparatory movement and getting centered, so that during the rest of practice on my own I’m free to move without structure or any particular ambition. Often as I’m proceeding a kind of direction emerges – I’ll start to feel like I want to do a certain posture, and I’ll work my way toward it.
This reminds me of my favorite personal practice advice from the choreographer Paul Taylor:
“I don’t know where the ideas come from.
If I waited for inspiration, I’d never get anything done.
I just get busy in the studio, and sometimes when I start I haven’t got a clue what I’m going to do. I just start. If it doesn’t lead anywhere, then I start over. But once you get going it doesn’t have to be the beginning or the middle or the end of the dance. I find that it takes over if you let it.”
My desire to understand how to practice yoga has broken down and recreated my personal practice (and my teaching) repeatedly, the way the tide coming and going changes the beach. The changes appear to be different when observed from various distances and in various time frames: a lot compared hour-to-hour, not so much from day-to-day, and sometimes quite dramatically over longer periods of time, with the beach disappearing altogether perhaps, and the waves hitting raw rocks, or cozy homes, or abandoned houses.
Another way to phrase your question would be, “What is yoga when you’re teaching?” What makes it a challenge to teach is there’s no such thing as adding the yoga after you plan the postures. Sequencing is yoga, and it’s a unique outgrowth of your personal practice.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.