For me, yoga is as important off the mat as it is on it. While I may have come to my first yoga class wanting an exercise program, I quickly learned that simply doing yoga poses does not a yogini make. As a seeker of spiritual growth, I promptly got on the Eight Fold Path of Yoga, the guiding principles and philosophy of the yoga practice.
Initially, this meant that I read books about yoga and came to yoga workshops at my local yoga studio. Wanting more, I sought out experiences beyond traditional asana yoga. I attended a five day silent treat with Swami Vidyadhishananda at New Vrindabin, a Hare Krishna community outside Moundville, West Virginia. There I learned to meditate and quietly attend to the act of listening to a learned teacher.
The subject of the lectures was quite intricate and is still far above my head, but I left that experience more disciplined and more open to learning in the yogic tradition: by sitting quietly, listening, and letting my mind and body absorb the experience and the wisdom of another. It was hard at first. My hips complained, my feet fell asleep, and my back ached as I sat on the floor for hours listening to Swami V. I also frequently broke my silence as I giggled with my roommate or complained about this or that. Yet I still walked away with something bigger than myself-something that had changed me. A crack had appeared in my self-sufficient, all-knowing façade. I was finally, at age 49, becoming teachable.
This teachability has become crucial to my yogic experience on the mat as well as off of it. For example, I sometimes see yoga students quickly become bored with a class if it doesn’t move as fast as they expected. They may fidget when seated quietly, or sigh during an assist, and often, Savasana seems too long for them. Oh how they remind me of me when I first came to yoga!
Now, however, I know that there is something to learn in each moment on the mat if I am able to sit quietly and attend to the teacher. Often, that teacher is my own body. If I am not quietly attending to my experience, I may not hear the instructions given to me. Remembering that I, myself, started out in this way, when I encounter such a student, I turn my compassion to them and try my best to model the very important lessons I have learned from yoga.
My experiences first as a yoga student, and then as a yoga teacher help me to become a better teacher. The lessons I have learned on and off the mat help me to guide my students in their own experiences on and off the mat.