On Teaching

A student recently asked me to write down some of the lines I say in class. He feels they are 'classics' and worth remembering. Well, good that one of us thinks so, because I often have a hard time recalling what the heck I said since it happens on the spur of the moment. And besides, like many things in life ‘you sort of had to be there' to appreciate what was said. Taking it out of context looks like I might have the yoga whip close by. This is not true....just let me reassure you.

That said, here’s a few lines which are good enough to make public. To help things remain in their proper context, I have prefaced each line with what was happening.

To a student who was not breathing:

“Only dead people do not breathe.”

Instructing a student in warrior pose:

“Straighten your leg. In yoga straight has a new meaning. Straight is straighter.”

Giving an adjustment to a student in cobra:

“If I had another set of arms I’d really be able to help you out here.”

When a student misinterpreted the instructions and went to the resting pose:

“I know you are already at the resting pose. But sorry, we have a bit to get through.“

In shoulder stand posture:

“Don’t go for plastic surgery practise more shoulder stands. Marilyn Munroe practised this routinely. (Pause with laughter)...Also good for the boobs” (More laughter).

To be honest, I think a yoga class without a few good laughs at yourself, the teacher or just life in general is not worth taking or attending.

I could probably write a book on teaching, the art of it, its challenges, the intense way it makes you strive to be a better communicator and the way it challenges me to understand people, including myself. Because if I can't explain this to someone else I might not understand it properly either. I am pretty sure, however, that a lot of people do not understand that the teacher is also learning. In the West we are more accustomed to the G-E-T the degree and S-E-T-T-L-E down mentality. It was the Great Yoga Master B.K.S. Iyengar who said that ALL Yoga teachers are learning. He also said he was a beginner and this is well over 75 years of teaching and practising. So if he is a beginner then I must be back at the embryo stage.

It is the beginner mind that remains fresh, open, relaxed, non-judgemental and non-defensive. In zen they call it "no" mind and in yoga e-ka-gra-ta (one pointedness). Remaining beginner-minded is probably the toughest thing to do especially after practising for many years. It is something to be reminded of and in many ways the most important lesson of yoga.

I recently read a quote on someone’s blog entitled the Reluctant Ashtangi about when you fall, learn to fall better. There is some hidden poetic justice in there....re: fall better. It was nice and uplifting, because usually when we think of falling we see it as a failure. Maybe it is only words but it better to have tried and failed then to never have done anything.


Hildo said...

Very refreshing thoughts and a good reminder of breaking with our conditioned thinking. Instead of participating our daily lessons with a full cup we have to open up and become susceptible for new ideas. Let me remind you that especially in martial arts the right “falling” is very important and part of the process.

Heather said...

Hildo, this is a great reminder. So instead of saying, "ouch" when we hit the floor we say, "ahh".

The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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