A bit on teaching

I don’t write much about teaching yoga. I find it in many ways a completely different skill set than practicing asana and pranayama. Way back when, my initial motivation to teach was to build community. I always saw my actual 9-to-5 job as the way to make money to subsidize my yoga teaching. To this day, that continues very much to be the case.

Fifteen or so years ago, I took over a teacher’s spot at a church in Honolulu. She taught Saturdays with a “love donation.” The church has since gone through many phases of leadership and I am now required to give 25 dollars for each hour I spend in the room. There are some Saturdays that I have to cough up $10 or so dollars to make up the difference. Other days I have found a crisp $100 bill in my donation bowl and nobody fessing up to it. Just like those statistics professors who sadistically make their students toss a coin and record each outcome to eventually reach .50 of even throws, I feel that somehow I have broken even after 15 years.

It is the not worrying so much if I am making money aspect that has given me students who have stayed with me for many of those 15 years. It is very much more of a community than a class. Most of my students tend to be in their 60s and 70s. Many of the young ones don’t stick around as the next door vinyasa studio gives them what they seek.

For most of my Iyengar training, I have fastidiously developed sequences based on the syllabus that I was learning and wrote them down following them to the letter. That all stopped when I didn’t pass my teaching portion of the Junior Intermediate I last year in LA. After that assessment, I was pretty distraught. I decided then that I should really just see who shows up and what they need and some how fit it into the clan of poses our studio is teaching that week (standing, forward bends, back bends, miscellaneous, and restorative/pranayama).

I feel that is when I started making a lot of connections. If capable students come, I give them challenging poses. If students come who are not used to regular practice, I try to give them something they can learn and practice outside of class. I could not have made it to this process without all the years to writing my sequences down however. Just like one who learns times tables, it has to be something that you can recall by rote if needed.

For now I am relieved and content that I have passed my test. I feel I can get back to the basics again. I recall somewhat resenting in my earlier days the basic-ness of the standing poses we had to learn in Intro I. Now I see that those poses are the true foundation of what I am practicing today and will be throughout my life.

 

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16 thoughts on “A bit on teaching

  1. Kim Skinner

    Dear Yogibattle Thanks as always for your very interesting posts. I also failed an assessment on the teaching aspect and havent yet summoned up the motivation or courage required to reapply so very well done for retaking and passing. I too teach a lot of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s and find that some have been coming for 11 years, every week. Others attend when they are not on holiday, minding grandchildren or attending medical appointments. So, like you, I always have a written plan but have to modify it. Altho I failed my ssessment – and here in the UK we have to retake the whole thing – I do feel it has helped me to sharpen up my teaching and especially observation and adjustment. I was relieved in a way to be able to return to deepening my knowledge of the Introductory Syllabus. Many students are not able to do all the poses on the Intro syllabus and so to get experience of teaching more Intermediate poses is always possible.
    Wishing you all the best
    Kim

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Hang in there Kim. A lot of people I’ve talked to don’t pass their first time. I thought about stopping many times, as getting the Intro II is probably the most difficult step in the Iyengar teaching path. I asked myself many times why I am putting myself through this without giving myself very satisfactory answers. In the end I joke/not joke that I am just to lazy to quit. I feel pretty lucky to have passed. I was given a sequence which suited me better than others. Some of the poses on the JI1 syllabus are absolutely daunting to do, nonetheless teach. See my post below on Eka Hasta Bhujasana.

      In the end, its the 60,70,80 year old student who is your priority. Not the one who can effortlessly fly up into Pincha Mayurasana, or middle of the room Sirsasana. In fact there was a woman in my assessment in that age category whom I took to the wall in Sirsasana during my assessment because she said she was too afraid to do in the middle of the room. Even if I did not pass I would not have regretted that move. Ironically, that could have actually contributed toward my passing.

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  2. nadialeloup

    Congratulations Michael! Very happy for you.
    I personally am one of those who doesn’t write sequences before my class. Especially at the shelter, there is no way I can teach advanced poses, and even when I usually have a “peak” pose in mind towards which we’re going to, we often don’t get there because the students get tired and I have to switch plans. During my practice however I sometimes like to follow Light on Yoga’s sequences or other pre-made sequences. Always interesting to see the effects on the brain to practice poses in a different order.
    Anyhow: basics are great! Without a solid foundation there is no freedom to go anywhere.
    Congrats again!

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks Nadia! Peak pose classes always remind me of workshops. They are fun, but in the end its kinda of fluffy to say I did some exotic pose today.
      I am currently geeked out on “actions” even if the hardest pose is ardha navasana. I always ensure my classes have at least a “jalandara bandha/kriya” pose like setu bandh or sarvangasana.
      The back of the book LOY sequences are a lot of fun. Who can realistically do all 40 poses or make it past week 16. Trust me, I’ve tried. The nice thing about practicing those is they give you an very nice sense of sequencing. Thanks for reading 🙂

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  3. Joan Scalzone

    Congratulations Michael! You have stuck with your practice and shared your knowledge. You have faithfully dedicated every Saturday morning to leading your students with no monetary gain. I am very proud of you and your dedication and accomplishment! Love you, Your Mom

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    1. Joan Scalzone

      Congratulations Michael! You have stuck with your practice and shared your knowledge. You have faithfully dedicated every Saturday morning to leading your students with no monetary gain. I am very proud of you and your dedication and accomplishment! Love you, Your Mom

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. Joan Scalzone

    Congratulations Mike! I am so impressed with your dedication and perseverance throughout the past 15 years. Joan and I love you and your supportive wife very much! You have both gotten to this place in your lives together and we hope you continue to be able. PS: Portland sounds great! Aloha nui loa, Tim

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  5. Amber Foxx

    I love hearing about your community of students. It’s so rewarding when that happens.
    I’m with you on teaching to who shows up and to their needs that day. I have regulars, but I also get tourists, and I have to be ready to change my plans.

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  6. helena chiu

    congratulations! i always love receiving your posts. and this one especially. as i am preparing for my JI1 assessment next october. have to dig deeper than i feel i can or dare to. you have given me some encouragement 🙂 thank you. thank you. thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Best wishes Helena. Looming assessments take a strange toll on the psyche. Take good care of yourself and leave part of your practice for self nourishment. I was under a tremendous amount of stress from being a caregiver when I didn’t pass in LA last year. This year I went to the beach every day a month before hand and just enjoyed myself. I also enjoyed spending time with my wife prior to the assessment. I think that made all the difference.

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  7. anonymous sadhaka

    I love your posts Michael. Somehow, here it is easier to connect whereas I tend to be a loner at class. More a back of the pillar kind of student who watches. Your posts are brutality honest and in my eyes, the way yoga teaching can maintain some of its old roots. Thank you as always.

    Liked by 1 person

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