And so I have ventured out for my second and third yoga classes. Both were enjoyable and relaxing classes, but the third class was distinctly different and better than the second class, which moves me to announce my first and completely unproven biased hypothesis of yoga … it's all about the teacher.
The second class was good but not great. There I was with about 30 of my closest beginner friends getting yoga down on a Saturday morning. No Lululemons in the bunch, various ages and levels, nice pace, familiar poses and a little lightheartedness. All in all, a good session, but something was lacking, the depth of reflection, the mental part of the practice. The poses seemed more like stretches, and there seemed to be no logical flow to the class. I know, look at me, only one-and-a-half formal classes and I'm a yoga snob.
And yet the difference between the two classes was distinct, not so much because the first teacher was bad, but because the second teacher was so much better.
Class three may be the one that changes this journey's paradigm. Dharma Yoga proved to be an excellent studio, a Saturday morning Hatha class with about 15 attendees of varying ages and abilities. Nice ambiance and the teacher asked a question I hadn't been asked since I was 17 years old and I went to pick up my date and her father answered the door.
What are your intentions? Think about your practice and what you brought with you today … my intentions? The instructor just asked me about my intentions … is “surviving the next hour and a half” an answer? Do I have to have intentions, can't I just be here? Standing, leaning left and right, stretching the shoulders … teacher's letting us catch up with our breathing before moving on to the next pose … great core work, stomach muscles hurt, good, logical start, jeez, my stomach muscles need work ...
okay, what's this … now I'm sitting, turn to the left, put arms through right legs, I'm all confused, focus, lift body off the mat …
Ummm, no. Not gonna do that, couldn't do it if even if I wanted to, don't even remember the name of the pose but recall that it would have hurt like the dickens if I had tried it. Of course, the teacher did it easily, and a couple of others seemed to get close, but mostly there were chuckles throughout the room and a promise of “if you practice for years and weigh about 46 pounds you can one day do that pose!”
And that was okay. I want to be challenged, to see where the next level begins and the opportunities it holds. I wish I did remember what the pose was called, because I'd like to file it away in my “I'll get there someday” file.
Siting cross legged, chin up … let's try Scale pose, the teacher says … another of those what on earth? moments … snap, crackle, pop, there go the knee joints, I'm getting old! … okay, arm here, leg there, weight here, inhale, exhale, lift … hey, I'm airborne … I'M AIRBORNE!
That's right, jump back jack, I am INDEED the yoga man. I have now done the Tolosina pose. I'm sure I didn't do the pose exactly right – okay, not even CLOSE to right, and you could have slipped a playing card between my butt and the floor – but hey, I got air, I'm still counting it!
Last few moments … quiet time … a good class … intentions were met, no blood lost … no, more to it than that, my intentions were to sweat, to reflect, to grow, to find a place within me that I don't seem to visit very often … a nice soreness in my stomach that tells me something's working, sure like that core work, a good day, a great studio …
Yes, a quality yoga experience is indeed a great deal about the teacher. It's just a hypothesis, and I really cannot sit here and tell you what skills or techniques separate a good teacher from a great teacher. From my limited experience, I would say that a good teacher stretches you physically but offers few challenges to the soul, while a great teacher interacts with his or her students, provides a multi-level experience and challenges you to excel physically while treating the inner you – and asks you of your intentions for the class!