The Tyranny of Style, The Freedom of Inquiry
I am a work in progress
Dressed in the fabric of a world unfolding
Offering me intricate patterns of questions
Rhythms that never come clean
And strengths that you still haven’t seen
~ Ani Difranco
There is one question that has always challenged me as a teacher of yoga, and that question is “what style do you teach?” It is an innocent enough question for people to ask, I get that, but I have always found it a challenge to answer and it always seems like a test I am bound to fail. Like many of us in this modern world of yoga, I have put my time in practicing, studying, and teaching a number of different styles, and each one has given me something different. And yet every time I have tried to define myself or what it si I do by one branded name or style description I feel I come up short. As well I don’t think that the answer to a question as simple as “what style do you teach” often provides the real answers that the questioner is looking for.
And yet I do think it is valuable to want to know more about a prospective teacher, especially if you are considering doing a longer training or retreat with them.
When you spend that kind of time with a teacher you are opening yourself up to a transmission of their deeper teachings and personal philosophy- so it is important to know that that is. I am often surprised that students will sign up for teacher training with me without asking me more about myself. There have been a number of times where I found myself wishing that they had because then they might have realized that I am not truly the ideal teacher for them.
So here I have asked myself some deeper questions that I think will help you get to know me better. These are also questions that I recommend teachers ask of themselves as it will make their offerings and the way they choose to present themselves to the world that much more clear while also providing a valuable process of inquiry that is worth engaging.
What Is My Philosophy?
When I ask myself this question I keep coming back to a few verses of poetry that I have written inside the cover of each new diary I have started since I was fifteen years old. It is by Rainer Maria Rilke and goes like this.
You see I want a lot
Perhaps I want everything
The infinite darkness that comes with every great fall
And the shivering blaze of every fiery step up
To me, these verses speak of what it is to say a brave and heartfelt yes to life- with all its beauty and its joy, all its terror and all it’s suffering. I value the light and the dark. I do not believe that progress on the path of life is linear. I see it as an ever-fluctuating spiral that takes us into and out of ourselves in a rhythm that is often mysterious and never entirely within our control but is also one that we can learn to dance with. Yoga has given me some very specific tools for cultivating the mindfulness and skill that allows me to navigate this great dance. This is why I practice and this is why I share what I have learned – so my students can learn how to use these same tools in order to more fully embrace the beauty of their own lives.
What Do I Value In Regards to Yoga?
I value practice. I value the process of committing to something and staying in relationship with it over a long period of time. I am much more inspired by this process of relationship than I am by the achievement of extraordinarily advanced asanas, or great feats of asceticism such as meditating for hours a day or juice fasting for a month. I’m being cheeky but honestly what I value most is what occurs when a person makes a personal commitment to a life of practice, a practice that will shift and change as they do. I value and respect the fluidity, the discipline and the trust that practice will demand of us if we are going to stay in relationship to it. Its this quality of discipline and commitment that I am asking of myself and that I encourage in my students.
I value inquiry and questioning. I am not afraid to ask questions of my own practice and I am not afraid to change my approach if I feel it is no longer serving me or helping me to evolve. This questioning is something I will also encourage in my students as I much prefer to work with engaged and curious practitioners than those that blindly follow what I say and do. Because of this, you can expect an invitation towards inquiry to be present in most of my offerings.
I also value safety and choice and so will always make effort to ensure a safe space for exploration in my classrooms and empower everyone with the knowledge that they get to choose how they want to engage with what I offer up- every single time.
What Are My Honest Strengths?
It has taken me a long time to realize that I truly can’t be every teacher to every student and that I can’t have all the best qualities of all the teachers I admire! I wish it could be so but it can’t. Every one of us has gifts that come naturally and I think it is part of our work to be able to own those and draw them forth while continuing to cultivate our strength in areas where we may struggle as teachers.
I believe that my natural strengths are my passion for living and learning, and my ability to inspire others. I am not afraid to bring myself to my teaching and do not shy away from sharing my faults or struggles. And while I would not call myself a funny teacher, I can laugh at myself, and at life. I am more likely to lead you on an emotional journey than to provide a class that is loaded with technical details.
I value the study of anatomy and am interested in learning the biomechanics of movement, but my classes will more likely emphasize breath and movement than a static study of the forms. My classes are fluid and feminine and at their best, they are also evocative and challenging.
I am more comfortable with the elements of Fire, Water and Air than I am with Earth and Ether and my classes inevitably reflect this.
I have skill in using language to command action and inspire feeling so I will reach out to you with words. I am good at observing what is happening in the room so you will be witnessed and seen, but I am not as open with touch and so you are not likely to get massaged by me while you practice in my class.
I tend to move and speak quickly and my excitement will infect you if you are open to it, but I am never going to move or act with the Zen-like containment of other teachers you may know, it’s just not how I roll.
I love meeting new people and traveling locally to new communities, but more than that I love getting to know my students and would rather work within a small community of committed students than teach in big studios or on big stages to many people I will never get to know.
I am an introvert, except when I teach, and so you are more likely to find me at home nerding out with a book than being social any night of the week. This means that I am often hopelessly out of touch with fashion and current events, but I will talk your ear off about Eastern philosophy, Hindu mythology, or Ayurveda.
Do You Know Me Now?
Now please know that I tell you all this not because I love to talk about myself but so that you can determine whether or not you and I would be a good fit as student and teacher, because I know that there is a teacher for everyone and if it is not me than it will be someone else. But if you really want to know a teacher than consider asking them the questions I’ve brought up here, and while you are at it ask them of yourself too as it may help you find the teacher or community that is ideal for you. These questions are more personal than “what style do you teach” but I believe these questions will allow you to know your teachers better, rather than to box them into answers that can be given easily but only tell a fraction of the story of who they are.