Learning to Evolve
1. to develop gradually
2. to come forth gradually into being; develop; undergo evolution
It has recently come to my attention that I am evolving!
(cue GASP! and shocked facial expression)
As I reflect on my experience with yoga over the past few years, both teaching and practicing, I realize that I have come a really long way from where I started.
When you are taking such small steps to move forward, you sometimes forget how far you have come.
While looking back on my teaching experience, I reviewed some of my notes from old classes that I put together years ago, and I laugh at myself because I can't believe some of the ridiculous things I attempted to teach my students. Things that now, many years and thousands of teaching hours later, I would most likely not teach to any of my current classes.
Lets be serious for a moment, shall we? Many people find themselves in a yoga class for the very first time because of the physical benefits, and I am no different than the average beginner yogi. I first stepped on my yoga mat because a friend told me it would be a great supplement to running. And guess what? It was!
That is what got me in the door and is initially what got me to continue to come back, but that is not the reason why I still practice today.
Today, I am no longer a runner and I no longer need yoga to supplement any other activity other than life itself.
I recently recognized this evolution in my ability to teach yoga by taking a look at how my practice has also evolved. Do you know what I noticed? My teaching preferences are almost identical to my practicing preferences.
If you were to ask me to describe my current preferences for practicing and teaching yoga, I would tell you this:
I prefer simplicity, controlled movements, and a strong focus on alignment.
I used to love the idea of creating the most complicated sequences filled with original transitions and new moves. Now, I much prefer to help my students find the best alignment in the most basic postures and transitions. I prefer to slow down the pace of class so that each student can truly find themselves in each pose for several breaths encouraging a safe and comfortable, yet challenging shape for the body.
Also, I no longer prefer to practice power yoga or fast paced vinyasa yoga. I prefer to practice with teachers who keep a steady, slower moving pace and who focus their classes primarily on alignment. I prefer to practice styles of yoga like Ashtanga, because you are encouraged to find the proper alignment in each pose while keeping a steady breath in every posture.
I prefer to talk more and do less.
I want to be in a class where the teacher talks to me. And I don't mean a teacher who uses a lot of words, but rather uses words that really mean something. Don't get me wrong, it's impressive to take a class or workshop that is loaded with demonstrations highlighting the teacher's practice. However, it does not impress me if you can't teach me how to build my own practice to one day be able to do the things that you do.
So I try to practice what I preach. I try my best to clearly communicate to my students how to strengthen their practice with as much detail as possible and provide a demonstration when necessary.
As it turns out, my strongest teaching abilities are actually the weakest parts of my practice. The things that I teach the best are the things that I originally did not do very well. I understand poses like downward facing dog, chaturunga dandasana, and forearm stand really well because they are poses that did not come easily to me. I asked A LOT of questions, took workshops, private lessons, and most importantly, PRACTICED for countless hours to improve each pose.
I prefer to hear the sound of breath.
When I first began teaching yoga, music was a huge part of my class planning. I took pride in the playlists that I put together and was full of joy when a student said, "you play the best music in class!" Now, music is the least important part of my class. I want to hear the sound of my students breathing and I can't possibly hear that with loud music playing.
For most of my classes, I play an instrumental playlist created by Pandora to keep on in the background. I find that a completely quiet room filled with only the sound of breath appeals to me very much, but intimidates many of my students -- especially the beginners -- so to please the masses, I keep a little music on.
Today I prefer to practice in classes with very quiet music or no music at all. And, I love classes when the teacher includes a meditation and/or a nice, long savasana!
I prefer to practice yoga in a more traditional way.
Sun salutations are everything. But, there was a time that I didn't believe that -- and that time was not that long ago. I remember bashing teachers who taught loads of sun salutations, calling it "unoriginal" and "not creative". I used to say, "there are so many better things to teach other than sun salutations".
SO MANY BETTER THINGS?!?!!!!!! Like what? What is better than doing sun salutations? I wish I could go back in time and shake myself silly!
Do you want to be more flexible? Do more sun salutations.
Do you want to be stronger? Do more sun salutations.
In all honesty, I got incredibly lazy in my practice. Practicing sun salutations, especially doing vinyasas, is vigorous and tiring, and I was bashing other teachers because I didn't feel like working hard in my own practice. At the time, I didn't realize this was a reflection of my own laziness, and I now know that I should have just been working a little harder on my mat.
Sun salutations are such an important part of our practice. In the Ashtanga method of yoga, there are five Sun Salutation A's and five Sun Salutation B's in each series. This is not a mistake. When done correctly, with intention, and with purpose, Sun Salutations will change your entire practice. (more on Ashtanga here)
As of recently, my classes have a huge focus on Sun Salutation movements. In fact, I recently taught a workshop breaking down all of the movements in detail (see part one), and although some would consider this "basic", I really challenged my students and it ended up being quite the crowd pleaser. I like the workshop so much and think it is so important that, if I could, I would make it mandatory to all of my students!
This blog post is important to me because I'm acknowledging that I am changing. And more importantly, I am changing because I want to. I am acknowledging that change is possible.
It's also important for me to say that I love yoga and I love all of my teachers, even if we don't share the same preferences in our practice. Every time I step on my mat, I learn something new.
I don't believe that the way I teach and practice yoga is the best way, but right now it's what feels good to me. In another few months or years, who knows what types of things I will be into?! I am excited to find out, though -- because I know I will continue to evolve.
"People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside of them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about, and what you value." -Stephen Covey
When you think about, I'm really not any different. This post may lead you to believe that I am, but my values have remained the same. I've always wanted to be a great yoga teacher and a dedicated yoga practitioner. And I believe that I am. I am learning new ways to be better, and I am evolving based on what I am learning.
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
Evolution, man. Strive for it. Strive to evolve.
P.S. What do you think? Do you share my current opinions or do you relate more to and prefer my old teaching/practicing habits?
Let me know what you think! I'd love to hear from you :) Leave me a comment below.
These pictures show my progress in poses that I have struggled with since I started practicing yoga. The evolution of my practice is real and it's exciting!
If only my teaching evolution was this easy to document.
Click to enlarge.
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