Teaching yoga is a very, very odd thing.
It feels nothing like practicing, I may even go as far as saying that teaching yoga is the antithesis of practicing yoga.
I teach a few classes a week at a gym downtown, and while the gym setting is less than ideal (the clanging of dumbbells and grunts from testosterone-filled men in the other room are the usual sounds that accompany savasana) I have really been enjoying the opportunities I get to teach.
It’s just…a weird experience.
There are the young, college-aged girls who walk in, sweaty from the cardio workout they just finished, and ask me if we can “work our abs.” Then you have the Moms who want to lose their baby weight and calm down from, well, being a Mom. You’ve got the dudes that can’t raise their hands above their heads because they’ve lifted so many weights without a single post-workout stretch, the older people who want to be able to keep moving, the first-timers, the girls who wear lipstick, the audible breathers, the hippies and the hipsters, the people who are scared to death of taking off their socks in public. And then, there are the quiet ones.
I love the quiet ones.
I love them all, every last one of them, but I especially love the quiet ones. Because maybe, just maybe, they’re here in my class, to ya know…find God.
I keep my hopes high. I keep my hopes high for everyone, because maybe when they say they want to “work their abs” it’s just that they’re just too embarrassed to say, “Can we work our souls?”
The truth is, for a while, I was really hung up on the fact that no one came to my class wanting anything other than physical results. One day, I even started class with something like, “Do you know that it’s possible to practice yoga without even moving?”
Bad idea. They all looked at me like…umm, WHAT, I did not come to yoga to just SIT HERE, we sure all hell better MOVE, and NO I’m not doing any of that chanting bullshit, that’s WEIRD and CULTISH and I’M NOT DOING IT.
So, naturally, I proceeded to work their abs.
I can’t force the other, non-physical sides of yoga on these people. No matter how hard I try, how well I articulate the philosophy, or if I make them sit still for an hour and fifteen minutes…it’s not going to work. They have to get to that point on their own, I’m just here to help and serve.
Besides, most everyone initially approaches yoga with purely physical intentions.
I started practicing regularly in my first year of college, because I heard it could improve my rock climbing. I remember my first class well–thinking, oh yeah, this pose will help me make those really dynamic moves, or, yeah, this one is strengthening my core, and, this pose will stretch out my back.
For a long time, I used to think that yoga was nothing more than stretching and strengthening the body. Never once did I realize that it’s really about stretching and strengthening the mind–let alone finding God.
Steve Black was the perfect teacher to have as a beginner. He never used the word God or Soul or Spirituality or Enlightenment. But one day in class, without even knowing that the spiritual side of yoga existed, I was aware of it. I don’t remember the pose or what particular class it was, but I started feeling good. Really good.
I don’t even want to try to describe the feeling I got because it is just that dear to me. I won’t do it justice.
“If you speak about that which is very sacred, it goes.”
I have faith that everyone who enters a yoga classroom will come out of there fulfilled in some way–whether that be in a physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional way. Even if they just relax one muscle, for one one-hundredth of a second, and think ahhh that’s nice, then that’s good. They’re on their way.