One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is what it means to be the best. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had a thing about being the best – maybe it’s because my generation was always told we could do anything, maybe it’s because as a child I learned quickly in school and got used to being praised. Whatever it was, it meant that whenever I was good at something, I wanted to be better, wanted to conquer it (or at least to feel like I could conquer it if I weren’t so busy conquering other things). In middle school when I got straight As in everything but science, in which I got a B+, instead of accepting that as good enough, I studied hard and pulled the grade up. In high school, I took geometry and algebra II at the same time so I could catch up and do AP calculus my senior year. In college I did exhaustive library research for all my papers, filling my dorm room with stacks of inter-library loan books. In everything I’ve chosen to pursue, I’ve always challenged myself to excel, to be the best.
Of course when it comes to yoga I do this too. A slow hatha practice wasn’t enough for me, I had to push myself in a tough vinyasa sequence. If there was a complicated, difficult pose, I was going to work hard until I could do it. A beginners class was fine for beginners, but I was an advanced student. When I decided to do my teacher training, this focus came up there too. Of course I would want to teach advanced classes, being that I was so advanced myself.
Through the teacher training program and even just in practicing at EEY, I’ve experienced a major attitude shift in my personal practice. When I signed up for teacher training, I thought that the classical hatha program wasn’t exactly what I’d wanted, and I was a little sad that I wouldn’t get to do the more vigorous vinyasa practice that I liked, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t still teach vinyasa after I was certified. What I’ve found is that a classical hatha class challenges me in completely different ways than a vinyasa class does.A few weeks ago, I went to a vinyasa class at a different studio for the first time since starting the TT program, and it was too fast for me: I missed having time to linger in each pose and really appreciate how my body stretched. I built up a sweat, sure, but I didn’t feel my muscles burning the way I do in hatha class. Having to hold the pose a little longer works the muscles differently.
The TT program has also made me more humble. I’ve realized that a lot of poses are hard for me such that the most basic pose is all I can manage, and I can’t even think about the more challenging variations; there are many ways in which I could be stronger, more flexible. There’s a lot to learn for everyone in a beginners yoga class, no matter what level you’re at, and I’m finding that I really enjoy beginner yoga class because it helps me stay strong on the basics. I’m learning that I don’t have to be the best at yoga – that there’s not even a “best”, only what my body is capable of doing today.
What I’ve really learned is how much yoga is a part of my full life, not just a workout. I crave my yoga time not just because it feels good physically, but because it keeps me calm and centered. I don’t need to do fancy poses or wrap my leg around my head because it’s not about that. I don’t know if I realized that as much before I started TT. I wanted to be a yoga teacher because I love yoga so much and I really want to share yoga with everybody, but I noticed that teaching advanced vinyasa classes doesn’t so much jive with the “sharing yoga with everybody” mission. Sharing yoga with everybody means teaching beginner classes, period. I’ve always said too that I want to teach yoga to older people, but older people often have physical problems that mean they need the most basic level of beginner yoga. There was a disconnect in what I saw as my mission, and I can see that now. I’m really excited about teaching yoga to people who’ve never done it before, and I’m much less interested in teaching advanced level classes. I’ll teach ’em, of course, but I’m psyched about working with beginners. Being “the best” teacher doesn’t have anything to do with how flexible I am compared with others. To be the best yoga teacher I can be, I just have to share my passion.
with my injured shoulder, i’ve noticed that a lot of “modifications” are actually harder. for instance, if a bind is inaccessible, i often have to hold my arms up, rather than letting them find resistance against each other. “basics” or “foundations” seems like better terms to me than “beginner” because they more accurately capture the challenge component. plus, lots of “advanced” students are really using momentum or resistance or gravity to do things that “beginners” are being asked to do with their muscles! (inversion prep is far more challenging than being in an inversion!)
That’s a really good point – it’s a lot of work to hold the arms up rather than do the bind, and I often find myself doing the bind just to get a rest. Thanks!
[…] changed in some subtle but important ways. My personal practice has changed greatly: as I’ve written about here before, I’m much less interested in vinyasa style yoga, doing advanced poses, and getting a great […]