I recently had the privilege of studying with Rodney Yee for four amazing days at Heathen Hill. Words can’t express how nourishing it was to be a student—to take off my teacher hat and just receive. There were only 18 of us in the room, most of whom were teachers, which created a very personal and intimate experience. Rodney held the space for us to practice openly and honestly with ourselves. I’m inspired by teachers who can offer intuitive instruction and then step out of the way; I find that this approach allows me to simultaneously refine and explore. And while it can be helpful to have a teacher accompany you on the scavenger hunt of experience, it’s also nice when they help you sharpen your tools and then send you off into the wild.
I wanted to write down everything that Rod said. I brought my trusty notebook and tried to capture the essence of his teaching without wandering too far away from simply being present with the practice. I spent my free time recalling the sequences, trying to capture the essence of the class on paper. I’ve found this to be such a valuable exercise because it encourages me to pinpoint what I’ve learned and articulate how I understood the practice in my body, through the lens of my own experience.
As teachers, we can only teach what we know. When we try to regurgitate something we’ve heard in a class, something we have yet to internalize in our own bodies or understand as it relates to our own lives, it will not translate to our students. Words that belong to someone else lack the depth and dimension of our own unique perspective. The only way to make a real connection with your students is to teach from your direct experience, which requires that you not only have experiences from which to draw inspiration, but also that you become curious about how those experiences translate from the microcosm of your life to the macrocosm of the human condition. Can you sift through your personal story and find the common denominator—the part of your struggle that we all experience?
When I reflect on my experience of a class, I start with my takeaway: what did I learn? Maybe it was a cool prop setup or an ingenious way to explain a posture, but more often than not I am struck by a nugget of truth as it relates to my life. It reminds me of a horoscope; everyone is reading the same words but walking away with a completely different interpretation. Authentic teaching can only come when we’ve digested and assimilated what we’ve learned through our own unique experiences. Therefore, to be a good teacher you must first be a good student—of yoga, of yourself, and of life.
Try this writing exercise the next time you finish taking class.
How did the practice feel in your body? Paint an honest picture. What was it like to be you, in that class, in your body? What did the experience bring up physically, emotionally, or energetically? How did the class affect your breath? Did any part of the experience trigger you to react? If so, why?
What did you learn? Were there any “aha” moments?
Whatever it is that you learned, why is this important to your life? How might your experience in class relate to your life’s work? To the work we all share?