I feel fortunate—really fortunate. Decades ago, I got to study with yoga luminaries such as Donna Farhi, Judith Hanson Lasater, Elise Miller, Angela Farmer, Aadil Palkhivala, the late Mary Dunn and many others at a time when 20 students was the average size for a workshop. From these teachers I’ve learned more than I can possibly quantify or express. For years, when traveling teachers came to my town—or within 300 miles of my town—I’d do everything possible to be there, soaking in every shred of new information. Much of the time it was way more than I could take in in a weekend, but I absorbed what I could and was extremely grateful for it.
Sometimes I’d apply the exciting, new tidbits to my classes right away. Other things I learned would seep into my cells over time only to be expressed in unexpected ways months, or even years, later.
On the irregular occasions when I’m invited to guest teach an eager, new-to-me bunch of students, I always hope by the end of a workshop that I’ve been able to help these students see their practice anew. I hope that like my teachers before me, I’ve shared skills and ideas that will integrate over the years. But most of all, I hope that students at my workshops will appreciate anew their local teachers, the ones who inspire them day in and day out, the teachers who show up several times a week to create not only a safe space for practice, but a community of like-minded friends whose constancy can provide roots for our over-stressed lives.
What Your Local Yoga Teacher Does that a Traveling Teacher Can’t
As wonderful as it is to learn new perspectives from the more widely known luminaries of yoga, it is your local yoga teacher that provides your day-to-day foundation that helps you meet the ups and downs of your daily life with a measure of grace. It is your local teacher who’s willing to show up and teach whoever comes—whether it’s five students or 20. Your local yoga teacher quietly invests in her own learning, knowing there’s a good chance she’ll never earn back all the money she’s spent on training. Your local yoga teacher creates the space for you to decompress from a stressful day of work. Her classes provide a reliable respite to carry you challenging times.
It’s actually easier to be a traveling workshop teacher than it is to be a local yoga teacher. The discomforts inherent in traveling notwithstanding, it’s much easier to get up in front of a bunch of unfamiliar faces and sound fresh and exciting than it is to surprise those who know you well. Plus being a guest gives you the automatic appearance of elevated status. If you’re from somewhere else, you must have information that a local teacher couldn’t possibly know, right? You’ve probably heard the phrase that you can’t be a celebrity in your hometown. Well, that’s true, and in some ways it’s probably a good thing, especially where yoga is concerned. Celebrity and yoga don’t always mix in the healthiest of ways.
It always shocks me when people take notes in my workshops, something that never happens in my weekly classes. This is probably because workshop participants are hearing my particular ways of communicating, instructions and jokes for the first time. Not so for my regular students. They’ve heard it all many times, and then some.
So it is for these students, the ones who have come to my classes for decades, that I continue to learn. It is these brilliant beings who bless the sanghas that have formed around my classes that motivate me to look beyond my familiar. Their presence shines a light on the things I say in class that are just tired, old verbal habits. These students drive me to explore new territory—sometimes to change the words I use, or to play with my sequencing or to not talk at all, allowing them to find their own yoga in the silence. It is these students, the ones who have taught me so much, that inspire me to keep learning.
Please do go to workshops when they happen. Take notes. Enjoy the infusion of new energy and inspiration. But remember your local yoga teacher, the person that’s here for you every week. Honor the teacher whose constancy provides the stable foundation for your own transformation.