There’s no denying that I’m a teacher that loves to focus on anatomy. As teachers, we have a number of choices from which to choose when it comes to our focus. At one point, I started to worry, “What if I’m driving my students nuts with all this focus on anatomy?” I actually took that theme and wrote an article about it for Do You Yoga:
Over time, I settled into loving and really embracing my focus. As teachers, what we focus on helps us connect with students who like to focus on that too. I remember one of the most powerful moments I had in my first teacher training was when a student in the training confronted Baron Baptiste, my first teacher. Baron loves to “keep things light,” as he calls it and he is a master at balancing the intensity of his teaching with humor so you never take it all too seriously. Well, this student in our training thought that his humor was showing disrespect for the seriousness of the practice. “Why are you making jokes? I don’t think that’s very professional,” (or something like that) he said.
“Well maybe I’m not the teacher for you,” Baron said, completely unflinchingly and with not one hint of defensiveness in his voice. The man was completely deflated because in large part, he probably expected a fight. But there was no fight to be had. Baron stood, unapologetically, in his power as a teacher, without shoving it in the man’s face. The man had a choice. Stay or go. Open your mind to something new or don’t. Right or wrong? Who knows. Just different. Different sides of the same hand in a way.
I had a moment in teaching today when I started out asking them, while in Bridge Pose, to reach their arms back and them swipe them up and down, as if they were making snow angels in the snow. People looked a little confused; they’d never been asked to do this before. I explained that it was a supported way to start to move through the range of motion of the shoulders (I had them on their backs, referencing the logic I explained in my post from yesterday in The Case for Starting Your Yoga Practice Lying on the Back)
I then had them make a cactus arm/goal post shape and arch their upper backs a bit, but continue to look up. I explained that I wanted to start to get some mobility through their thoracic spine. Once I mentioned the rationale, I added that if it felt more understandable to them, they could consider the movement a heart opener, moving their heart back, opening through their solar plexus, recognizing that when we’re opening through the heart, we start to connect to our true self, to not only our sense of vulnerability but also our ability to express and stay open minded.
In that moment of teaching, I realized that teaching from anatomy and teaching from spirit are really two sides of the same hand. It just depends on what lens you’re looking through. For instance, you can look at the practice through the lens of anatomy and speak to the spine. You can see it through the lens of spirit and speak to the main energetic line of the body. You can see it through the anatomical focus and speak to the contraction of the obliques in a twist; you can see it through the spiritual lens and speak to, in a twist, releasing stress that no longer serves you. You can speak to the action of creating balance in Tree Pose by rooting into the foot, engaging the center line of the body and reaching high or you can speak to spirit by suggesting students lift their gaze high, making a wish or setting an intention.
Whether we teach from anatomy or teach from spirit, it’s never really an “either/or” thing. We can look at our students holistically, suggest actions that are inspired by what inspires us, by what is our passion and work to leave them feeling balanced and complete.
I’m knee-deep in writing my third book, Structure and Spirit. My first book, “Stretched, Build Your Yoga Business, Grow Your Teaching Techniques, is a soft cover book which is more informational, about building your business and getting down to the task of applying all that you learned in teacher training. The second book, “Key Aspects of Anatomy for Yoga Teachers” is a free e book and is all about anatomy. This book will be a balance; an exploration of the concepts expressed here; looking at things from both sides of the same hand— structure and spirit.