Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's just One Long Class

Warning. In this post, I will be modeling unsophisticated writing. I will tell you what I'm going to talk about because I'm too tired to introduce it properly. In this post, I will talk about teaching, mask-wearing, and Cheez-it eating. (Ok, I can't figure out a way to talk about the Cheez-its, but I told The Dancing J I would, so I put it in my thesis :-)

Bikram Yoga Teacher Training started this weekend. I'm happy to think of lots of new teachers coming together to better their practice and learn strategies for teaching yoga. It also hits home even more because it's here in San Diego, and because, well, some of my favorite yogis that I've "met" online are attending (including, of course, the lovely Lush over at Nameste, with whom I share a birthday).  

So, I'm not a yoga teacher. I actually have no aspirations of being a yoga teacher, although if I were a little younger and more willing to throw myself out there, I'd be tempted! But I do teach, and I've been thinking lately: If I could go back to my 23-year-old self and tell her something before she walked into her very first classroom, what would it be? 

I think it would be not to put on a mask.

"A man wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it," George Orwell writes in my most-favoritest essay, "Shooting an Elephant."

We put on masks all the time--we smile at the cashier even when we're feeling down, we try to tell a joke when really we want to admit we're nervous, or we feign understanding when really what we feel is disbelief. And when teaching, jeez, it's tempting to put on the thickest mask we can dig out of the closet. You know, the Mardi Gras one, adorned with sequins and brightly-colored feathers.

And then, like Orwell says, we can begin to feel our faces growing into that mask. I know that I've started off semesters thinking I needed to appear funny, warm, smart, engaging, and super-knowledgable at all times. Sometimes, I fool myself into thinking I'm pulling it off, and that's almost the worst. It can begin to snowball and get out of control--we can worry about how we're coming off rather than truly being present with the students and the material.

But sometimes I remember to step back and pull off that mask, and that, I think, is where the show is really happening. This semester, for example, I'm teaching a new class. I started out with what I thought was a bang--I thought I was on top, that the material was great, and that the students would love it and they'd learn a lot and it would be this gooey educational experience for all of us. A few weeks in, though, I could tell they just weren't feeling it. Something was off, and my trying frantically to convince them it was awesome wasn't working. 

So, halfway through class one day, I just pulled the mask off. I stopped class and asked them for some feedback. I encouraged them to be honest. They were, and then I had them write down some feedback anonymously. You know what? It was so good I did that. Yes, they told me some stuff I dreaded hearing, but mostly, the feedback was positive, and I was able to take their suggestions and bring the class back on track. Hand to God, we're the better for it now. I'm more in tune with that class than with any others.

Now for how yoga ties in! It helps us tear down this mask. By the end of any given Bikram class, when my body radiates heat and my hair is plastered across my face, I've stripped myself of whatever layers I've carried with me into the yoga room. I thank the yoga teachers for always being there, for always teaching from their hearts these classes that allow us to melt away the veneer, allowing us to get in contact with our hearts.

I honor the Bikram Trainees who start in San Diego this weekend. Continue to leave the masks on the shelves and let your unique, inner light radiate. Your students will see it.


"Some place between Hollywood and its pretty happiness, and an anguish so infinite it's anybody's guess, is a place where people are all teachers, and it's just one long class"--Ani Difranco


feral chick said...

What a lovely post (though I must point out that you *are* "funny, warm, smart, engaging, and super-knowledgable"--even if you don't feel all five 24/7!)

After all, it's your intelligence, warmth, engagement, and knowledge that led you to take that scary and quite possibly un-funny step asking your students what they *really* think.

Sometimes we are strongest when we feel weakest. . . .

hannahjustbreathe said...

This is another reason why I love the mirrors in Bikram yoga. If you stare at yourself long enough---and 90 minutes really is a long time---than the reflection you see is bound to change, literally and metaphorically.

Lovely post as always!

Anonymous said...

I get questions about teaching yoga all the time. If you read Planet Yoga’s #yogachat, they had a great discussion on teaching tips. It’s part of their weekly Twitter #yogachat. I thought your readers might want to check it out:

Lush said...

:) Sending bikram yoga love to you from the village! <3 Look forward to seeing you this week!