Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Noblest Profession...IMHO

In all the latest folderol surrounding yoga rebels, management teams, talent agency synergy, and bra fat, I wonder...

Are we still talking about teaching yoga?

To me, teaching is a very intimate experience. Two people come together over a period of time with the understanding that information will be shared, understood, processed and applied. One half of the pair will facilitate the learning and the other will absorb. Both are affected by the interaction and both emerge with a deeper sense of the material. The key to this definition--in my mind--is over a period of time.

Learning does not happen in an afternoon or a weekend. It may start in a day, but it is an ongoing process. It's important for students to have the continued support and attention of their teachers as this process unfolds. Not constant attention, but students should feel like help is available and that their teachers can guide them on their way.

Think back to your most valuable learning experiences. How much contact time did you get with that teacher? Were you just a body in a sea of freshman during a huge Psychology lecture? Was it during a weekend team-building exercise for work? I doubt it. What we remember as our education highlights involves a close connection to the teacher who helped make it happen--coaching during the school play by the drama teacher, yearbook work nights with the journalism teacher, dissertation advice from a major professor, career guidance from a mentor at work.

So how does this relate to the aforementioned dust-up? I get so weary hearing about expensive yoga retreats, massive yoga workshops, yoga stars jetting back and forth to this or that studio, because I wonder just how much teaching is going on. Inspiring, informing, showing and demonstrating, yes...but a week after the workshop, when you can finally follow the sequence but don't understand the logic behind it, who do you turn to? Or if you remember the pose wrong, but keep doing it and hurt yourself? Is there anyway to assess what is actually learned?

Maybe we need a second category for these kinds of learning experiences--yoga demonstrations, yoga performances, yoga lectures? Some one is showing and some one is watching or doing, but the close connection never happens and there is no follow-up. These experiences are valuable--obviously we value them more, performers make a whole lot more money than teachers--but I don't think a lot of teaching, as I've defined it, happens.

So there it is. What bothers me is equating success with how many demonstrations you do a year, or how many people you "reach" through books and endorsements. Yoga instruction as a revenue generator. All of that has its place (well, I'm not sure about the endorsements), but I wish we did more than just pay lip service to the teaching end.

Not everyone can teach. Not everyone can energize a ballroom full of people. There is a place for both, but they are not the same thing, nor should they be. Being able to do one, does not guarantee being able to do the other. They are separate and distinct experiences.

...In My Humble Opinion.


Charlotte said...

Thank you for this, Brenda. I agree with you. I have had wonderful learning experiences in isolated weekend workshops. I do seem to take something away from them in almost every case. But the seed for most of these, with teachers like Donna Farhi, Judith Hanson Lasater, Elise Miller and the late Mary Dunn, was germinated back in the days when workshops had 20 to 30 participants, and they came to my town every year and formed a bond with the local community.

By far the deepest teacher/student relationship I've had is with my meditation/yoga teachers in Southern Utah, in groups of 10 or less over the past 26 years. A few years ago I sat a vipassana retreat at a large center and got to learn from some more well-known teachers, including having private consultations with them. I truly enjoyed it, but I also felt so grateful for my regular teachers who have known me for so long. They know where I've come from, who I was 26 years ago, and all I've been through. There is so much I don't have to say.

In my own teaching, I'm so grateful to have a core of students who have worked with me for 10 to 20 years, plus some newer students. We have grown up together, and we all know and appreciate so much about each other's lives. It's so rich!

flyingyogini said...

I of course also agree with you, but unfortunately do not have the luxury of living in the same area as my teachers. One of my main teachers is Sadie Nardini who while only a couple of hours away in NY is still too far for me to see on a regular basis. It is a quandary I am really struggling with because I'd like to be close to a mentor who can guide me and KNOW me and who I can see weekly, but it is not possible with those around where I am.

I have attended and assisted in workshops with Sadie and I can say this: 1.) she remembers people who have studied with her by name, by injury and by ability 2.) she is as intuitive or more so than the teacher I studied with daily for a YEAR 3.) she has helped me be a better yoga practitioner and a yoga teacher. If I contact her she instantly gets back to me, and she has noticed my strengths and weaknesses in much the same fashion as locally based teacher (read: more often seen) would. Just because I see her only ever couple of months doesn't mean I am not reaping the benefits of her guidance.

I'm not saying every distant mentor/teacher or your words: "yoga star" has these same gifts. Nor am I saying that every student goes out of their way to establish a relationship and connection with their teacher either. I know that part of my success in this endeavor is due to MY efforts as well. But I think it's wrong to discount the input someone such as Sadie or other big name teachers can have on your practice and yoga.

Yes, ideally I'd be having private lessons with my mentor and also studying with him/her on a more daily basis. I long for that exactly! However my location and my life (kids, teaching, etc.) do not allow for such a connection. Is it wrong for me to find such genuine guidance from someone who I only see every few months?

poep sa frank jude said...

Brenda, I totally agree with you! And I am one who does "fly in" and teach a weekend workshop or week retreat at various places, as well as being on the faculty of a quite successful Yoga Teacher Training program. I get heart-warming, inspiring feedback. I know that often folk who turn out for my programs are truly touched by the work with me. And I am heartened, greatly rewarded and humbled when I hear from them weeks, months and even sometimes years afterward, telling me that they still think of something I said or some practice we did.

However, outside of a few places where I do return year after year, I do not think of these folk as "my students." I often find myself reading some bio of some teacher at a studio refer to themselves as "having studied with" me and I have no recollection of them at all! They haven't "studied" with me... they've attended a workshop I led.

Those for whom I have a developed teacher-student relationship, though it's another story. The relationships are always -- as you note -- intimate, on-going, and deeply affecting for both of us. Each relationship I have with a student is unique.

In fact, I will always remember what one of my earliest teachers once said: "The real yoga happens in the relationship between the student and teacher." I know this is true for me. Several spontaneous outings for lunch at a Toronto Korean restaurant; spending an evening at the Russian Bath House in Chicago. These are two of the experiences where I feel I may have learned more from my Zen teacher than all the time at the Temple.


in metta,
frank jude

Jenn said...

Brenda...thank you for your always thoughtful, always insightful, always down to earth real world view. Out of the shrinking yoga blogs I continue to follow...I'm glad yours is one of them!

Brenda P. said...

Thank you all. As I head down this Education Major path, I've been thinking more and more about teaching and when it is most effective. I think it's a relationship that important to protect--psfj's comment that "real yoga happens in the relationship between student and teacher" is precisely how I feel.

@Flyingy-I, too, only get to a class once a month in Madison (1 hr. north), but I try to keep the commitment for all the reasons you do. I spent a lot of time thinking about this post, because I've never had classes with any of the teachers I linked to, and it seems like they have some really devoted students. Something is working in those relationships (and I know they both work in studios, so I'm sure they have developed the kinds of connections that I define as teaching).

I wasn't trying to be particularly provocative, other than that I wanted to hear what other people think. (I'm very honored you've all commented, since I really respect all your thought about yoga) I'm worried the yoga community gets too wrapped up in the big events, and gets distracted from the most important part of the process.

As I said, the big events have their place. I spent 15 years working in theatre and film...I know the transformative effect a wonderful performance can have. And participating in a group activity with a beloved guide can be a great source of inspiration and growth.

I hope we can place equal value on both. But I also hope that the choice to teach comes from a place of wanting to connect and share, rather looking for a source of fame and fortune. (Again, not a snipe against TS or SN, but a general concern)

Linda-Sama said...

am in India right now but will leave a small comment....I agree with you, Brenda. I don't like "yoga demonstrations" where everyone stands around after the performance and claps "ooooh, what a wonderful handstand....."

I also agree with Frank Jude: I have been shocked at people who have come up to me years later to thank me for a workshop I barely remember giving, but something I did resonated with them.

come to one of my workshops or weekends or ask one of my students how I teach.

cheriyogini said...

Wow. What an insightful post! I have been teaching for just over a year, but from the very beginning I knew that I wanted to be a consistent influence for my students. I show up at every class with my heart open and ready to share with all of my students. The relationship we share is the foundation that allows the learning to take place. Because they know I am truly present, they trust me. This is how I am able to change lives. And I do not take that responsibility lightly. And I never take it for granted. Kudos for speaking out for those of us who believe teaching is a higher calling.

Emmanuelle said...

Thank you Brenda for this post.
My YTT teacher is in London while I live in Brussels, I see her once a month but the relationship does not stop there, we have built a satsang and there is always contact.

I have another yoga teacher in Brussels, and I couldn't go on with my teacher training without her, she's just a wonderful human being :)

As a burgeoning yoga teacher, I'm also learning how to teach thanks to you all. Thank you.

Hiske said...

Thank you for a great post. I hope it will resonate through the virtual yoga community.

The way I see it, there's teaching and studying. Teaching is what you write about - an interaction between teacher and student.
Studying is all that's going on inside the student (a unilateral process). Practicing, reading, attending workshops or events, experiencing arts, engaging in human interaction and living life in general can all be part of studying. But for me as a student, it's important to 'check' the results of my studying with my teacher every now and again, and seek his guidance for any questions that arise.

This does not mean that I need to have a daily/weekly/monthly contact, but I do agree with you that student and teacher do need to maintain a regular contact over a prolonged period of time, as knowledge is vast, deep and multi-leveled. Like art or fine wine, or humans, it will ripen over time.

Brenda P. said...

I am grateful for all the thoughtful comments.

Hiske, I love your comparison of teaching to studying. Students and teachers alike must be responsible for their own "continuing education," for that is really the only way the subject will stay fresh and understanding will continue to evolve.

I think the most effective teachers are those who balance their roles as teachers and learners, keeping one foot in each world. Because, really, is there ever a time that we finally know everything?

Colin said...

I believe your humble opinion is right. I have been in really big classes, but I feel lost and don't feel like am getting the same out of a small class.

Today for example I did my first (and definitely not last) lunchtime yoga class. I thought it was going to be busy and I'd just do my routine and get back to work. But it turned out to be only me and 1 other person that turned up.

And I felt the attention has lifted my practice up, even in just this one class. Jon pointed, proded and fixed my asanas. It was just great.

I don't know if I could do a class of lots of people, as to me learning is a personal thing, and I don't know if I'd learn with 100 other people sweating, coughing, sneezing and you know sometimes, farting!! (or is that just me??)

Anyways great blog post.

Eco Yogini said...

i love this post Brenda. I agree, teaching is so valuable and a separate skill.
thank you.