Diary of a New Yoga Teacher: Part 1

This entry was posted on Feb 21, 2012 by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.

Week One

Three people come, and I’m deeply grateful. This is a fairly new yoga studio on the western edge of town, a place where no yoga studios have yet ventured. We’re in a location where we’re both greatly needed and greatly not expected (translation: invisible despite our lovely sign, postcards here and yonder, and tweets about town).

When I went to my first teacher meeting, I asked the other teachers how many students I could expect.

“Sometimes five,” one woman said hopefully.

“Sometimes zero,” a few others chimed in.

So today I was happy to have three. Granted, I had especially asked (cajoled, invited, begged) two out of the three to come, but it was good to have real bodies on real mats. My students were a small but diverse crew: an older woman with decades of experience doing yoga, a middle-aged woman just dipping her toes into the yogini waters, and a young man who just said he was too stressed out lately.

As we started, I glanced at my notes, a palette of possibilities and certainly far too ambitious to cover without being here until 2013. It suddenly seemed impossible to transform my ideas for this class into something coherent that would speak to this small group. I looked at my students, sitting quietly after some warm-up stretches. “What do you need today?” I asked.

“Kick my ass,” said one.

“Push me,” said another.

“Please,” added a third.

To my surprise, they were already speaking from a group mind, or it was just a lucky coincidence. I smiled, got them to their feet, and we began a long journey through sun salutations with lots of plug-ins added (cat-cow, thread the needle and chair, for instance). By the time they were rolling their mats up, they were exuberant. “Just what I needed,” they chimed together.

As I unplugged the fountain and turned off the lights, I told myself this was surely the start of my yoga teaching genius. Why next week, I would have 10 students, each class a delight and a cinch.

Class Two

Today I had a flexi-flyer, someone who could probably touch her nose to her toes without much warm-up. I’m not a flexi-flyer. A 52-year-old woman who started yoga later in life, I have some of the tightest hamstrings in Kansas, and persist in a love-hate relationship with everything from downward dog to child’s pose. There’s simply no way for me to demonstrate for a flexi-flyer how she might engage with her edge.

The other student was an older woman who had never done yoga before and didn’t realize she had to get up and down from a mat. She’s game for trying, but being over 60 and somewhat out of shape, she needs a chair, so I bring her one and place it in the center of her mat.

The class turns into me racing from flexi-flyer to chair lady, talking them through modifications as best I can. In Dandasana (Staff Pose), I get chair lady another chair for her legs, and encourage her to lean forward just a few inches, keeping her heart open. For flexi-flyer, who just about has her nose on her knees, I suggest softening her heart because I can’t think of what else to say. I used to make jokes about moments like this, telling my students, “Now if you can go much further than I can with this pose, please do. I promise not to be offended.” But I soon realized no one laughed at these jokes, and even more so, I didn’t need to apologize by way of joke for being shaped in such a way that it takes me an inordinate amount of time to find yoga pants that don’t make my legs appear to lead up to a big black sink.

When it’s time for Svasana (Corpse Pose), chair lady decides she wants to lie down on the mat after all, so I help her bend slowly without putting pressure on her knees, which she tells me will be replaced soon. I use a lot of blankets to support her head and her knees.

Throughout the class, these two have operated as if they were different species parallel-playing, and by the time class is done, neither seems like they had a particularly good time. “This was interesting,” chair lady says, “but I feel stupid that I can’t do more.” I try to reassure her that there’s yoga for everybody, and also add that I’m sorry I didn’t know more modifications to show her. Flexi-flyer is out the door so fast I don’t imagine she’ll ever be back.

Driving home, I wonder if that call I answered to become a yoga teacher was actually just a wrong number.

Read Part 2 & Part 3 of Diary of a New Yoga Teacher

About Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the Poet Laureate of Kansas, and the author of 14 books, including a forthcoming novel, The Divorce Girl; The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community & Coming Home to the Body (Ice Cube Books); and four collections of poetry. Founder of Transformative Language Arts – a master's program in social and personal transformation through the written, spoken and sung word at Goddard College (Goddard College); where she teaches, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-writes songs, offers collaborative performances, and leads writing and singing Brave Voice retreats (www.BraveVoice.com); and she blogs regularly at her website (www.CarynMirriamGoldberg.wordpress.com)

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