by Kara-Leah Grant
And by that I mean the best yoga teacher I can be, not the best yoga teacher in the world. 🙂
It’s my ideal way to spend time – hanging in community surrounded by literally hundreds of heart-open people, practicing yoga, listening to music, dancing, eating amazing food and spending time in nature.
Oh, and having the privilege of speaking and teaching too.
Last year, watching the teachers deliver the goods at the one day Wanderlust event in Auckland, a voice inside rose up.
“I can do that.”
And I felt it, this surety that I had what it took to deliver a Wanderlust class.
Then, when I got an email from Jacque Halstead, one half of the dynamic husband and wife duo who mastermind Wanderlust NZ and Australia, asking me to teach, I whoop wooed and danced my way around the room.
But this wasn’t about being seen to be ‘successful’. This was about having the opportunity to up my game as a yoga teacher and find out what I’m really made of.
And, as it turned out, the most extraordinary take away for me as a teacher as a result of teaching at Wanderlust Great Lake Taupo was figuring out how I teach.
It’s something I’ve been working with ever since I came home from yoga teacher training with Shiva Rea in 2010.
Doing that training – while it was amazing – knocked me completely off centre and I lost the heart of how I teach. Over the last four or five years, I’ve been playing with teaching, figuring out what it is I’m here to share and how to do it. Prior to Wanderlust, I still didn’t feel like I had it figured out.
All I knew was that I sure didn’t care much about teaching postures or even finding ways to take people deeper into postures.
Then on the Saturday at Wanderlust, I did my own practice, taught a class, and attending three classes with some amazing teachers.
I started with Mark Whitwell in the morning. He led with discussion – maybe an hour or so (something I was relieved about s physically I was beginning to reach my limits!). And then he took us through a stripped-back, simple sequence that emphasised the heart of yoga.
Mark wanted us to come into intimacy with ourselves and our breath, no fancy postures required.
Next was Eoin Finn, a man who seems to walk around with a prayer of gratitude for the majesty of life at all time. He took us through a hip-opening sequence that was intelligent and powerful. Yet during his class I was wanting something more, something different. I noted this awareness, curious about it because Eoin’s class was amazing and people loved it.
Finally, I did a powerhouse collaborative class with Cameron Shayne and Kerri Kelly, opened by a dance warm-up from Gabriel Francisco. Called Warriors for Change, the class was physically powerful and both Kerri and Cameron were motivational and inspirational in their approach. They were calling out the Warriors in all of us.
And yet, again I found myself wanting something less, something different. Something more stripped back and intimate. I noted this too.
Afterward I reflected on the difference between all three classes – how they each met a different need in people, and how they were all needed. Classes like Cameron’s and Kerri’s break people open by pushing them physically and mentally and exulting them to break out of their boxes. These can lead to some powerful experiences.
A physically intelligent and heart-felt class like Eoin’s helps people go deeper into postures in a different way and often do things they’ve never dreamed of. This also helps to break people out of their boxes.
However, Mark’s class felt like it was transmitting the heart of yoga. That it was helping people become more intimate with their breath and body in a nourishing and nurturing way, in a way where they could take it home with them and recreate it on their own mat.
As I reflected on these different ways of teaching yoga I realised that since doing the Power Living Teacher Training last July I have been teaching more in the style of Cameron and Kerri’s class – motivational and inspirational combined with strong physical practice.
I unconsciously had picked up the concept that was how I needed to teach in order to be the best teacher I could be.
Yet my natural style is very different. I teach more like Mark. My intention as a teacher is to bring people into intimate relationship with their breath and help them access the space where yoga begins to naturally arise from within.
Ultimately, I want people to realise that they don’t need me to teach them yoga. What they need is a heart-felt desire to know yoga, a connection with their breath, and a willingness to step into the unknown.
Within the context of a yoga class, this is what I want to facilitate for students.
My next – and last – taught class was 10am on Sunday morning. I walked in with a clear sense of teaching in a complete different way than I had taught the previous two classes. The title of the class was The Bhavana of Courage, and I could feel how taking this step required courage for me.
I started the class the way I start my own practice – asking students to bring awareness to their breath and see where that took them. I gave no asana instruction, and focused on facilitating awareness and breath connection only.
And that was challenging for students. We want to be told what to do. We don’t like feeling unsure, or not knowing what’s going on. All kinds of thoughts and feelings were being triggered.
But after three days immersed in the Wanderlust experience, I felt clear and strong enough to hold the space and not let the fears and doubts of the students sway me.
From that opening, it was on to explore and open the body slowly and mindfully, always being led by the breath, as we moved toward a particular creative sun salutation sequence.
I gave students plenty of space and time to move according to the needs of their own body, and get used to the idea of initiating asana with the breath, even though they didn’t necessarily ‘know’ what to do.
After class, a number of students came up and thanked me for providing the space in class for them to breathe their own way into asana. Helen, my assistant, hadn’t known what I was going to do, and after class gave me feedback, still without knowing how I’d deliberately mixed things up.
“That was your strongest class by far, you fully stepped into your power and held the space in the class. It was quite different from yesterday’s class, which even though it felt good, it still felt like you were playing a role rather than just being you.”
That was the essence of it for me too. Without even realising it, I had been playing the role of ‘yoga teacher’.
And even though I played the role well, it wasn’t until I had the comparison of those three yoga classes within a day that I could sense where I truly was as a teacher.
Being at Wanderlust Great Taupo gave me a mirror in which to see myself clearly as a teacher, and the confidence to step into that which I am.
No more playing the role of a ‘teacher’, trying to be something because I think that ‘works’, or because it works for other great teachers I’d like to emulate.
Instead, I’m clear on who I am and what I have to share.
I don’t have to fit a mould.
I can just be me.
As I am.