I love this meme. It illustrates so well the different perceptions of what we think a yoga teacher actually does. What is it that I think I do and why do I do it? My number one intention as a teacher is to be of service to others, which can manifest in many ways. There is a dimensionality to this work that is subtle, and most students are never aware of what has lead a teacher to each moment in class, or what the idea of teaching as service means. Things look very different when viewed through the lens of the teachers eye. Yoga is as much about changing your perspective of yourself and the world, as it is about moving your body through a series of postures with breath. Part of a teachers service is to help students shift: physically, perceptively, intuitively and perhaps even spiritually, but it must come from the student.
When I am about to start a yoga class the first thing I do is assess my students for injuries, ability and energy. I do this in order to serve as fully as possible, and this information drives the posture flow for everyone in class. This can be a challenging. A few weeks ago I taught a class of students with the following issues:
- 6 month post-op shoulder surgery
- 1 year post-op ankle surgery
- Two failed carpal tunnel surgeries on both wrists
- 1 year post traumatic head injury
- In addition to 2 new students, a mom and her 10 year old daughter and several of my regular students
This was an all levels class. So based on who my audience was, I had to create a practice that would serve everyone, which was no easy feat. It takes a willingness to be creative, to be sensitive to the needs of each student, the ability to think on your feet, and to make everyone feel comfortable. To the students who came expecting a wild evening of arm balances, I apologize, but in that class it would not be of service to take people into postures that were not accessible due to their limitations. The teacher must take into consideration everyone’s abilities and serve as fully as possible from there.
There is also the unseen service of holding space for students who are in the midst of personal crisis and being willing to stay after class to listen and support. Service is not limited to the yoga studio: we share in our students grief and trauma as well as in their joy and celebration. It is not unusual for the phone to ring late at night with a student on the other end looking for help, guidance or consolation. We are always there, willing to help when we can, or to simply listen, as needed. This is in appreciation of all the teachers who have supported and held space for me during difficult times, paying it forward.
I am in this to serve. It is also how I make my living. It is not an easy profession, nor is it lucrative, but I do take it seriously and am committed, as I know the value and power of this practice. Ultimately your experience in class depends on what you bring to the practice and your willingness to shift your own perspective. It is the teachers responsibility to serve that in each student. This is what I think I do.