Silence is a blessing. So they say. Until you stand before a class of four students to deliver a 75-minute “slow flow” class. That was my experience yesterday. And a big departure from the big city power hours of yore I used to teach, packed wall to wall with students filling the space with a symphony of Ujayi breath. Man how I took that for granted. Stepping in to sub a class for another teacher yesterday, in a town so laid-back the biggest decision is whether to play 9 or 18 holes, I begged God not to let the silence swallow me. Even the fan and instrumental background music failed to quell my desire to…talk.
Based on post class ahhhs, and the serene faces walking out of the studio, I think I did a decent job of it. But it wasn’t until this morning, when I rolled out my own mat at home to practice that I realized how important it is for the student, and the teacher, to shut up and listen.
Not motivated enough to guide myself through practice, I scrolled through various podcasts and selected one taught by a teacher I’d never met and whose studio I’d never visited, but had a big following. 5-star reviews. A “rock star” teacher, according to more than one reviewer. Unfortunately for me, five minutes into the practice I nearly hurled my phone across the room.
Stop talking. Stop preaching.
Maybe the teacher on the podcast eventually did, but I didn’t continue long enough to find out. I instead flowed in silence, through my own Journey Into Power (the familiar sequence imprinted in my mind and heart) hearing nothing but the sound of my breath and beating heart. And realized that silence is indeed, a blessing. But as a teacher, this is hard. Damn hard. We’re called upon to motivate. To inspire. And at the same time to give space. To let students discover for themselves their own greatness.
So where do words come in? Where do they serve, and where do they squash the energy? It’s a fine line, and I still teeter on the edge of the teacher’s balance beam of too many vs. too few words in a class. To stay centered, I first ask myself these questions each time I step up to teach:
Am I teaching from a pulpit? Or am I firmly grounded at the front of the room? All the world is a stage, some say. I say not. Especially the yoga studio. When I can enter the class focused on what I have in common with my students vs. hiding a behind a me-against-them pulpit, it feels more like a delightful dance of give and receive. I give a few tools. They give me direction, based on their breath and movement, of where to go next. And more often than not – I’m discovering – I can go there without uttering a single word. I can ditch the script. Paying attention to my students, seeing myself in their poses, means I no longer have to reach for a grab bag of clever cues and pointless bon mots that come across as nothing more than useless words.
Am I here to be validated? It stems from am I good enough. I used to base how the rest of my day went on whether a student gave me a pat on the back or nonverbal sigh of irritation after class. Never mind if the student gave an ounce of effort, had any interest in growing their practice, or was simply having a bad morning. Once I shed the need to please, and replaced it with a commitment to delivering a powerful practice based on the Methodology I teach (Baptiste Journey Into Power), I started leaving class feeling complete. And confident my students received my best effort. Which is more than enough.
Will I leave class better than when I came in? We commit to leaving our students in their greatness (a tenet of teaching Baptiste Yoga), but what about leaving ourselves in our teaching greatness? I began yesterday’s small class with a commitment to leave better than when I entered, and kept it in the forefront of my mind at times I wanted to slap on a band aid of words where they weren’t needed. In Half Pigeon, for example, instead of prattling off some “breathe into your hips” B.S., I gave all four students a lengthy, restorative assist. So great.
Am I trying to be someone else? In the beginning, I sputtered out alignment cues, jokes, and anecdotes that other teachers before me shared naturally in their own classes. I even gesticulated like teachers I admired, in a futile attempt to conjure “oh she’s so confident” sentiments from my students. Through a ton of work and self trust I’ve shed most of it, but not all. Asking myself before every class if I’m trying to emulate this super powerful teacher that gets me to go deeper in Dancer’s Pose, or mimic that lovable teacher that makes 90 minutes feel like 5 through wit and humor in a long hold, I get real with myself. And recognize that my delivery of the practice must come from my own personality. Through my own training. There are no shortcuts. I can’t hijack anothe teacher’s work and call it my own. It just doesn’t work.
My class yesterday was a fresh start into my commitment to silence in teaching. Yeah, I’ll still use words. But instead of letting words dictate the flow, I’ll let them flow from my heart only where needed.