I’m not sure exactly when I stopped obsessing over asana. There’s been a gradual shift over the past couple of years, as I’ve become less hungry for the next pose and more hungry for how to become a better teacher, a more devoted practitioner, a better person. This year has been full of unexpected challenges which have shifted my perspective. I went to India to practice and was stopped there by life circumstances. I went to Encinitas to see my teacher to help me through an injury when I was too scared to practice, and now I’m working on new techniques and at a different pace.
I’m here in Boulder almost 3/4 of the way through Richard Freeman’s month-long teacher intensive. This has been on my Ashtanga bucket list for years, and it has absolutely been worth the wait. The practice is slow and deliberate, led mostly by Richard. Confession: we haven’t done full primary yet! It’s a different thing for me, to take a month off from teaching and not bust out my practice. I teach all year, and when I go away I really like to focus on my asana practice because I so often just don’t have the energy or focus to invest into my own asana.
But this year, it seems, is different.
It’s a new thing for me to take time off to practice and to realize that I’m not that interested in practicing asana. Don’t get me wrong – I love asana! But in not focusing specifically on asana work, I’ve been able to focus on being a better teacher, a more devoted practitioner, and a better person. I’ve been able to shift toward serving my students better, and I’ve had this modeled to me so well by my own teachers.
You know what? It’s just as exciting and just as rewarding as any study or practice I’ve ever done.
Over the years, I’ve started to realize what it means to be a teacher. A teacher performs a function to a student, projects possibilities for growth to the student, and is representative of the path – this is no joke! Students are vulnerable to teachers, and that’s a delicate relationship that needs to be honored.
A teacher nurtures the journey of the student while not interfering with their path. Teachers work with all the hopes and fears of their students. A teacher should never hold on too tightly, but instead foster a love for the practice and empower students to be their best selves.
As a teacher, I try to create a warm and supportive environment for my students. A place where everyone feels welcome, safe, and supported. A place where growth and transformation are not only possible, but happen every day. I believe that a teacher should empower students, not hold them back or tell them how to feel. My goal as a teacher is for students to surpass me and eventually to find teachers who know more than me.
I’ve only learned all this because I have been blessed with amazing teachers. Teachers who have given to me generously, who hold me up, who humble me, who give me confidence and tell me I can. My teachers encourage me to study with other people and continue to learn.
What I value most in a teacher now is someone who supports not only my practice but my teaching, and gives me something to model myself after. The way I see it, great teachers are those who want to be surpassed by their students.
As a student I have gotten to the point where I no longer want to be taught about technique. And maybe this is where the learning starts. My growth now is to try to grow into my role as a teacher. And this is why the student-teacher relationship is so important to me. This is why I prioritize spending my time and my money to go learn from teachers who I hope to someday be like. Because I’m no longer looking only to learn the next pose – what I want now is someone who can teach me how to be a better person.
A teacher has to be a leader for their students, but also a follower of the lineage. There needs to be a willingness to lead, and to sacrifice. A teacher has to come from a place of love and willingness to lift others.
And when this happens it is truly is a beautiful thing.
Think of the fullness of possibility! A teacher raises a sangha, a community, to go forth and multiply and build their own communities and support all beings.
So you see, the point of building community isn’t to patrol – it’s to raise them up. And as a teacher, I am at the center not because I want to be the boss but because I want to serve other beings. The energy, power, and love doesn’t flow outwards from the center – it comes inwards.
The most important thing that I have learned from my most important teacher is that a teacher doesn’t hold the student back and the teacher always has the student’s back.