One of the biggest questions I am asked as an instructor of Yoga is “What style do you teach?” I used to cringe as those words were leaving their lips. I know it would simply be easier to say “Hatha” and be done with it. However, the answer is so much more complex than that. I read a blog post yesterday about teachers creating their own styles of yoga and how that may not be an authentic approach to honoring such an ancient practice. The bottom line is most of us teach our own style. Our style becomes an intricate blend of the styles of our teachers. Much like cooking, we learn from other people, their shared ideas and recipes. Then when we actually sit down to make the meal ourselves, we do it our way, the way that feels comfortable to us; ultimately creating a flavor and design that makes the most sense to our taste receptors.
I was very fortunate that my initial 200 Hour Teacher Training Program consisted of teachers of all lineages. It was as though the creator of the program had laid out a buffet table and we had the opportunity to sample a multitude of flavors. We were than able to decide which ones we enjoyed enough to revisit and which ones we would leave behind all together. Many years later when I developed my own Teacher Training Program, I designed it the same way. I invited teachers who I respected and who had a style of teaching that resonated strongly with me. Each one of my students that graduates from my program does not tell people they practice “my” style of Yoga or even my school’s style of Yoga. Each one of them has developed their own recipe for teaching that is an intricate and beautiful blend of what was taught and what was genuinely true for them. You can spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours on training but until you actually digest those teachings and serve it up in your practice, your teaching, and your life, it is not going to taste or feel authentic to you or your students.
This summer I have kept my teaching schedule quite light, teaching one class a week with a few private clients sprinkled in between. I was excited to receive an invitation to teach two back-to-back 90 Minutes Classes as part of a summer dance intensive at Academy of Performing Arts New England. As I was preparing for teaching two different age levels of dancers, I realized, there was no tangible way for me to develop a theme or even a basic class outline. I needed to walk in and begin a discussion with them. Ask them questions about their previous experience(s) with Yoga. What they liked about it, what they didn’t like, what postures they might be interested in exploring. From there, I just let the classes organically unfold. The best way to approach teaching this way, I find, is to do something Amy Ippoliti calls “vessilifying” or “vessilification”. For me, this means, doing my best to ensure that my body is fueled with the right nutrients, the right amount of sleep, plenty of yoga practice, as well as inspiration from my teachers and my vast library of Yoga Books.
I took a fabulous class with Amy on YogaGlo last week called “The Power of Faith and Intention”. She talked about Shraddha, the Sanskrit word for faith. When I researched Shraddha further, I discovered that, rather than meaning faith in a religious context, it means something closer to “trust” or “conviction.” “It most commonly refers to the conviction that develops from one’s own direct experience and practice.”
Amy also talked about Nataraja, the dancing Shiva, how it is said that he dances on the boundaries of the ever expanding and contracting Universe. Our classes are filled with students whose expectations, abilities and boundaries are ever expanding and contracting. How then, can our style or our teaching be labeled, rigid, or defined?
When I teach my style of Yoga, I have to vessilify, I must have Shraddha. I have to walk into that space and trust; allowing all of the teachings I have received from training, practice, experiences, and books to just flow from the universe, through me, to them. Teaching is not a style. Teaching is an exploration, it’s a conversation, it’s a dance.