Intention Leads us to Education (growing as a yoga teacher)

Hello sweet yogis!

I am not sure if I have ever mentioned that I have some kind of a physically-photographic memory for corrections and feedback. Does that make sense? I think I remember every single correction I have ever gotten in class since I started practicing. When I get a correction, I store it away, and it comes up every time I do the posture so that I use repetition to learn it until I do it without having to think about it. Sometimes this takes one class, sometimes it takes one year (you get where I’m going).

I have the same memory for teaching feedback. I am pretty sure I remember and recall every correction and “piece of feedback” (can I say that?) I have ever gotten since I started teaching in 2003. I remember it, store it away and, like so often in life, only use it when I am ready…when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Amongst us teachers, “feedback” can be traumatic, useful, mysterious and/or somewhat of a miracle!!! In any case, it’s usually nerve-wracking to get it. Feedback involves another teacher whom you respect taking your class and you knowing the whole time that they are listening intently to (ugh, and silently judging) you. Haha, right??!! I jest about the judging, but it can feel that way, can’t it? It has been very scary to have teachers whom I respect take my class. At every level we want to be peers, and yet we all have feelings of insecurity, doubt and being not good enough. I have been very fortunate over the years of my teaching career to teach at many schools around the world, and teach at teacher trainings and advanced seminars. I have been exposed to many esteemed teachers taking my class. It’s been great, I have learned from every single teacher who has given me feedback. Sometimes its hard to stomach or it’s hard to hear, because sometimes feedback is negative. Besides hearing something like you flap your arm weirdly or you are the worst teacher ever, we sometimes we have to get feedback that is EVEN WORSE (I am joking, of course, because how can someone tell you you are the worst teacher ever? Ha, ridiculous, and who cares if you flap your arm, you were probably nervous). Receiving news that a student complained about me has been some of my saddest times as a teacher. As my mother says, all information is good information, however, so when I have gotten feedback that a student felt somehow shamed or put down in my class, I know that not all factors led solely to me and my behaviour, but my actions or words created the space for someone to feel badly. Definitely not my goal, so has lead me to acknowledge and correct. However, getting POSITIVE feedback from a student that they learned something, that I was able to help them self-realise in some way is the best feedback ever. Over the years, I have had a great chance to see how my words land on other people because I have been watching it happen so closely for so long.

I used to give really specific feedback, because that is how I got it. I used to give long pages of feedback to teachers with everything from sequencing of dialogue within the postures to suggesting ways for them to work on body language and learning to stand still. It’s all important, right? In order to be good at something, you must understand and effectively execute each and every part of it…notice I did not say that you have to be the best at everything…? I said, in order to be good at something you must understand and effectively execute each and every part of that thing. So, in our case, in order to be good yoga teachers, we need to understand and be able to effectively execute not only the postures, but be in control of our teacher’s mind, body, emotions. You can’t teach your students to stand still when you can’t stand still yourself, and you can’t teach your students to keep pushing themselves to become a little stronger or a little more flexible or a try a little harder if you yourself are not doing that AS A TEACHER. Your yoga asana practice is important for you for however it’s important, and it shows up in your life however it shows up, but your TEACHING IS ALSO A PRACTICE. Your time on the podium is growing and changing just as much as your time spent on your yoga mat, and it deserves and needs just as much time pushing and exploring and learning as means to forward motion and evolution.

Fast-forward to now and the kind of feedback I get to talk about with teachers. I am blessed to work on a day to day basis with a group of gracious and wonderful yogis who have been doing yoga together for many many years! It’s family, isn’t it? I don’t often give nit-picky feedback regarding the words of the dialogue because instead, I get to have conversations about intention of us on a bigger level as teachers and how we are here to create big change in big ways, and how these postures are teaching us the mechanics of the human body as well as the power of our minds! Of COURSE, sometimes I still pull out my dialogue and we talk about that, because the dialogue is the best tool to BEGIN TO LEARN to speak directly to the physical body, in my opinion…I love to fit the body perfectly into the words and lines of the dialogue exactly like a puzzle, and it never ceases to warm my heart to see the relaxation someone feels when everything goes in the correct place and, voila, feels like perfection.

So how do we continue to learn and grow as teachers…where do we find “continuing education”? As Bikram yoga teachers we are handed very little information about what happens through the years AFTER teacher training, and how to stay fresh with what we do. (After post edit* I made a choice not to talk about going back to TT as our continuing education…I spent many years visiting TT and learned sooo much! The opportunity to learn and hang out with so many teachers, and Bikram, Raj, Emmy, Jim, Lynn, Diane…you know…was over the years so amazing for me. But it’s not always an option to travel around the world and take time off life etc to be able to spend a week doing posture clinics. What I wanted to talk about here was what ELSE can we do to keep learning and being inspired…5 years of teaching, 8 years of teaching, 10 years of teaching…). We are required to re-certify every three years, but for many the re-certification isn’t a priority…at least not after you’ve done one or two. So how do we keep learning? Do we go and take other styles of yoga teacher trainings to learn from other teachers, and then begin to teach something different? How about melding a little of this with a little of that and making something “Hot and Half the Time”? Some teachers fall away because they get bored, some because they can’t pay the bills…some keep doing it the same way everyday for years and years, and some find ways to further grow as a teacher and create freshness and inspiration for themselves. It’s challenging to stay excited and inspired as teachers, isn’t it?

Although I am not a big feedback session giver anymore (in the sense that I don’t often take someone’s class specifically with the intention that I will sit down and give them FEEDBACK), I L.O.V.E talking about yoga and teaching and think this is one of the best ways to be inspired as teachers.  I am always happy to talk to anyone about their class and I am happy to give feedback in the sense that I can tell you if I thought what you are doing is effective, and if not then give you some suggestions on what to try to be more effective. Because that is the goal, to be effective at what we do. Everyone has different goals for themselves, so effectiveness is relative in regards to our students being successful. Our goals and intentions as teachers need to be open and encompassing of each student’s goals for themselves, not what we think they need to accomplish in the class. People come to us to learn yoga, and we are there to teach them yoga. Whatever you believe is in the realm of yoga is up to you, but in my opinion, in a Bikram class our job is to teach the asanas, and through that they will learn their own self realization (but don’t tell your students that too soon, or it might scare the newbies off! 😉 ). To be more effective is to have people learn to connect with themselves through the postures, I think. The words and directions of the dialogue are the starting tool, and your strongest and most reliable bridge from you to your students in the yoga room. Through that connection, you learn to connect to their bodies, so they can connect to their bodies, so they can connect to their minds. As you teach, you learn that there are many ways to instruct and teach, and that there are many paths and lessons that we guide our students through…but it starts by bringing their toes and heels together and looking in the mirror, doesn’t it?

All that being said, education is everywhere! You might think that the only way to get more education is to take another training and become a teacher that has more openness and freedom to teach a variety of styles of yoga. Awesome if that works for you. The way that we are taught to teach Bikram Yoga specifically is very precise. It has to be. Bikram is teaching several hundred people in a short time to teach yoga…he developed a way to do it that has served him (and us) for many years. As Bikram Yoga teachers, we are taught to look at the bodies and say the words, to have a conversation with our students with only their bodies to respond. We are trained to be clear, concise, specific, detailed and direct. We are trained well, at a beginning level, as beginner teachers. What we do with our knowledge after we get it is up to us. Jump back to the teachers who fall away…boredom, finances, politics amongst yoga studios…what are they missing after training that causes them to lose the drive that brought them there in the first place? Connection. Inspiration. Knowledge. Deeper understanding of not only someone else’s journey, but also our own. We must be self driven and determined in our own ways to continue our learning and education. We are very lucky that if we want knowledge, we can get knowledge, it is everywhere and extremely available at our fingertips. There are no “Long Term Teaching of Bikram Yoga” books (hmmm…note to self), but there are rules and suggestions about teaching everywhere. Just because you aren’t taking a Bikram Yoga specific workshop, doesn’t mean that the rules about learning and teaching don’t apply to your job teaching. Just because you are taking a class or watching a video of a posture that you don’t teach in a class, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from the teachers’ pace, timing and tone of voice as they instruct. And, just because there isn’t anyone (is there?) that is on TED talks talking about Bikram yoga, it doesn’t mean that all the talks on leadership and teaching and connection aren’t helpful for you to learn ways to guide your students and help you gain confidence…it’s ALL HELPFUL and it’s ALL EDUCATION!

So…all that being said…here is what I would tell you as the first thing to think about in your teaching, I don’t even need to take your class. Before you even walk into the yoga room, ask yourself, “what is my intention?”. Through your intention you can plan your actions. With your intent clear, the tools that you have collected along your path are ready and available as needed because that is their job…you acquired these tid bits and tools through your own personal continuing education, and when you are clear why you are there, they will make themselves available…but you have to build your collection, don’t you?

Intention and plan can change at any given moment if things turn out that they aren’t going exactly as planned, but or the most part, my intention is always this; to have my students feel inspired by something they discovered or felt or thought or experienced that makes them want to come back and try it again tomorrow. Simple.

So, get on the internet, yogis! Get to the library, go take a class of ANY kind , listen to a lecture, read a book, talk to your friends, lie on the floor and start stretching…these are ALL effective ways of continuing your education as a yoga teacher, and are ALL available to us all…

I love you, puppies. Knowledge is life, go out and drink it down! I feel so blessed that after this many years, I still feel so excited to love my job and love my work and the people I get to do it with! What a ride.

Ida xxo

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