As a somewhat established yoga practitioner and teacher I have a view of yoga. Yet different people come to yoga for different reasons and with different views – usually carrying preconceptions and probably misconceptions about what yoga is. If nothing else, then there is usually a conceptual and practical gap between me & my view as a teacher and students & their views. With that in mind my teachers offered advice I recall as: “give them what they want so you give them what you want”. It implies, to me, that part of my responsibility as a teacher is to tap into their views about yoga so that I can gradually draw them closer to my views. Until today it is a teaching I have struggled with.
I am at peace with its core, which is aligned with a core view in the tradition of teaching I inherited: at the heart of yoga is a practitioner, not a practice. As a teacher it is my responsibility to assess an individual practitioner and tailor a practice accordingly (this is best applied in one-on-one settings). However the “give them what they want … ” advice seemed to demand of me to go beyond that.
I should probably say that I carry two views when looking back at my limited teaching career. On the one hand I view it as a success because I feel that there were a small group of people that I was able to reach and substantially enrich. On the other hand I view it as a failure because in terms of a “career” it failed … I didn’t get to teach many people and I “pushed away” more students then I was able to reach. I didn’t and don’t have any regrets-in-retrospect but I often feel that, when it comes to those I pushed away, I failed when it came to “giving them what they want”.
That was until this morning I encountered another phrase in a description of the workings of Washington DC: “go along to get along”. This is something I’ve never done well, never wanted to do and didn’t intend to start doing as a yoga teacher. At first this phrase seemed to carry the same tune as the “giving them what they want ….” phrase. It took me some contemplation to realize a key difference and resolve this internal criticism I’ve been carrying with me for many years.
There is a word that I edited out from my description of my “failed career”: money. I failed to make a(ny kind) living from teaching yoga. I edited it out because it seemed irrelevant … since I also failed to make a living from almost everything else I did (during the years I attempted to do so with yoga). I brought it back because it illuminated something I hadn’t seen.
My motivation in teaching yoga is (and has always been) rooted in giving, sharing what I consider to be precious knowledge that I myself have been gifted with. This is reflected in the advice my teachers gave! me: “giving them what they want so I can give them what I want”. The need to “make a living” (=money) from Yoga reflected a mentality of taking instead of giving. I had to have money to “pay for life” and because the world around me wasn’t “gifting me back” with money I felt I had to somehow extract money from it. That view latched on to the basic giving-incentive that was already present and tried to pervert it into “giving yoga so I could take money” … which is more in line with the “go along to get along” mentality.
My uncle was thrown out (a long long time ago) in the early stages of military airforce flight school because he was too busy enjoying the view. For a military airforce that was probably a good decision. Any compromise may have resulted in a plane crash or loss of life or what not. Today my retrospective view has changed. I now believe that letting people walk away from yoga was quite possibly a good outcome, maybe a success, surely not a failure. If I failed in any way it may have been that I was not more clear in turning them away? Though planes don’t crash and people don’t die from practicing yoga, incorrect practice can be misleading if not outright injurious (physically, emotionally, energetically and spiritually).
I needed the “get along” view to reframe my self-inflicted criticism. I actually managed to “give them what they want so I can give them what I want” with people with whom I had the honor of engaging as a teacher. I could not stretch that to the point of “giving them what they want so I can take from them what I want” with the others. Today that ceased to be a “failure”.