Sunday, January 21, 2007

Teachers and Intention

I recently took a couple classes with teachers I don't regularly practice with. One class was awful, one lovely. But both were a good experience, especially as I begin my first teacher training session next week—they taught a lot about intention and how it affects your class and students.

A Rose by Any Other Name...
One class was at the Y—teachers for this class rotate, so it's a bit of a grab bag in terms of the teacher's style, level of experience, etc. I've never really had a truly bad yoga experience until this class.

I walk into class. This teacher is sitting on her mat smack in the middle of the room, in Easy Pose (Sukhasana, what we used to call "Indian-style)" as kids), looking imperiously at everyone walking into class. First bad sign. Naturally, we students position our mats so that the teacher is always in front of us, so we can see the instruction. Because the teacher put her mat in the middle of class, all of us were scrunched into the back half of the classroom. Instead of picking her ass and her mat up and adjusting to accommodate the now half-full room, she sat there watching us scramble for space with a wide swath of lovely, open floor in full view behind her. Second bad sign.

She starts class and mentally, I manage to get around her abrasive accent and tone, and try to let my initial aggravation go to give her a chance. We do a very short, very ineffective warm-up in a not-hot-enough classroom (this is an 8:00am Saturday class that goes almost 90 minutes), and before I know it, we're doing Cobras and Upward Dogs, and it's not really feeling good. In fact, the warm-up was so inadequate that I could barely even get into proper forward
bends yet. We had plenty of time to get the juices flowing with it being a long class...does it not occur to her that most of us were probably asleep less than an hour before class? Third bad sign.

I'm still trying not to let my aggravation get the best of me. I soldier on, then as we go into Revolved Side Angle, I think it was, she stops beside a guy (who is also in my usual class...he gives it his all) and literally points at him and tells him he's "doing it wrong." What?! I was so pissed off for that guy and so pissed that the teacher had the audacity to point or tell someone they're doing something wrong, instead of just going over and adjusting them quietly and without a scene. I know he was pissed too...I could see it on his face. We're not used to being singled out like that, made to feel inadequate for all the room to witness. Fourth bad sign. I was seething, and no longer able to practice constructively or mindfully. At the half-hour mark, for the first time, I rolled up my mat and left. I just couldn't take that woman anymore. So, instead of leaving yoga exhilarated and refreshed, I'm pissed, and spend the next hour trying to get a grip.

Loving Touches
Fast-forward a week. I'm in a two-hour Power Vinyasa class with a teacher I've taken a couple times before: Litsa K. We warm up slowly. We sweat. We lunge. Oftentimes in class, as we're holding a pose (Warrior II, for example), Litsa will walk around and gently touch the fingertips of our outstretched hands. It's like a little love tap. It feels like she's saying, That's good! I see you. You're doing great! She can never say a word, but those little touches speak volumes about her intention.

And here is the crux of the matter: Your intention will always give you away. My yoga teacher once told me that she could tell by my intention that I was serious about yoga. I wasn't quite sure what she meant when she said that. Now I understand completely. When you bring wholehearted effort and peace to your mat, it's obvious. When you bring contempt or judgments to your mat, people can feel it, they can see it. When we come to our mats, we need to be there completely, or in my opinion, not be there at all. As a teacher in training, I realize now more than ever that what makes a teacher popular or successful is not the yoga per se—it's their "bedside manner," the presentation, the package. Yoga can be had anywhere these days. What makes a teacher stand out is intention. The mood of the teacher. Her cadence. The music. The way they make adjustments or corrections. How they make you feel—do they lift you up or tear you down? It all factors into whether the experience is good or not, and whether we'll be back to that class or not.

Intention. It's a very powerful concept.

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