The Value of Yoga Teachers
I have had the chance this past year to spend some more time studying with a variety of teachers. I have been delving a bit deeper into biomechanics and anatomy to support my understanding of how to work with different bodies in my own teaching. I have gotten to take some classes with some really great yoga scholars on what is emerging in new information on yoga history and philosophy. I have delved more into the Bhagavad Gita to see why this can be such a guiding light for so many. And I have continued my personal practice and study with a dedicated cohort of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, about a thousand years old, along with continuing my study of the path of Classical Tantra (not the new age, its only about sex stuff).
I am after all an eternal student, and always looking to see how I can improve my teaching. All of this has led me to a much greater appreciation of teachers. While everything in the past year has been happening over Zoom, I am still so impressed with the teachers I choose to remain with, and their dedication to passing along their knowledge. I am so honored to be a part of the tradition of passing wisdom from teacher to student, and take my role in this very seriously.
I know there are so many who abuse this position in various ways – taking advantage of their students sexually, physically, financially, and certainly emotionally. In witnessing how many in the yoga and wellness community use their platforms to promote division and fear is disheartening, yet also gives me motivation. It motivates me to keep looking at what I am doing, what I am selling (lets be honest, I need to earn a living to keep food on my table), and my level of transparency, honesty, and integrity in doing so. I’ve wrestled a lot with whether I appropriate Indian culture, and have made some changes to be a better teacher of where yoga’s roots lie. I have looked at how I can better serve the people in my adopted country, who often don’t have access to yoga. With five paying students in my teacher training, I offer a scholarship to a Costa Rican who is eager to bring the gifts of yoga back to their community.
What I have come to value most in my teachers are the following qualities that they have so well modelled for me, and that I work hard to pass along in my teaching.
From my first teacher, Terri McBride: a genuine caring for each individual student and how she could best serve them. Clarity and honesty about who she was in that moment, and a lot of humor and grace. Terri lit the flame of a deep and life lasting love of yoga within me and I deeply bow to her daily.
From my second teacher, Lillah Schwartz: an amazing ability to see what each individual student needed and a masterful teaching to that. Exacting in her teacher training, she scared the crap out of me, yet this is what motivated me to work hard to meet her high standards of what it takes to be a good yoga teacher. Her comment to me when I went back to study with her after being here in Costa Rica for some years: “Mary, you can’t just go and live on a mountain and expect to keep up with what is the current and best information.” So right, and a true master teacher.
From my third teacher, Everett Newell: Fed my craving for a better foundation of yoga philosophy, and further techniques of Hatha Yoga. I learned more about the popular vinyasa form of yoga, and how it can be a tool for working up a good sweat and how to design a well-rounded class. I also learned the valuable lesson of what happens when your actions don’t match your words, and that a teacher always has blind spots.
From my fourth teacher, Joe Barnett: I was thrilled to get to study with Joe as his main teacher, Paul Grilley is the expert on functional anatomy applied to yoga. Joe was an amazing and clear conduit of all things related to how each body is unique along with an expert in yin yoga. Joe taught me that its ok to acknowledge what you don’t know and to be passionate about what you do know.
From my fifth teacher, Christopher Wallis: Although he says to not call him my teacher until I study with him in person, that hasn’t yet been accessible to me, and I’ve spent hours learning from him. His integrity, depth of knowledge, and honing in on his teaching is a great light to me. I found Tantra through Christopher and knew that this was the philosophy that most spoke to my heart. He is the only teacher (besides me) that has said that it all really comes down to love, and he teaches from that place.
These are those who have taught me the most on the path of yoga. Every time I teach, I honor those on this list as I sit at the beginning, and then I bow to all those who teach me as they come to me as a student. I had asked for a number of years for my teacher to appear. Then one day, in deep meditation, my prayer was answered when I was told to open my eyes and see who was right before me. So a deep bow of gratitude to you, my teacher. I see you, I hear you, and I value all your lessons.
Till we meet again – so much love,
Hello dear ones,
How are you? Its been a looong time since I have written a blog, and the world has changed greatly. First and foremost, I hope that this finds you and yours healthy and sane wherever you are! Covid-19 has brought us a shut down of the borders here in CR since mid-March. There have been a lot of restrictions here, and in our area of Guanacaste, relatively few cases, gracias a Dios.
Yet it changed everyone’s life. I can’t tell you that I found any magic ways to make it an easy thing to handle. I do believe, though, that having a regular practice of yoga (all of yoga, which includes the postures, the breathwork, and meditation) made a HUGE difference (I’ve had a few times in the past almost 6 months where I felt either depressed or crazed, and one big what-should-I-do-with-my-life moment). And having a beautiful mountain retreat to be sheltering in place on with a couple good friends was also a very big advantage. Here is what I did to stay sane the last six months:
- Have a regular schedule of sleep, meals, and productive time and stick to it
- Keep a journal and write a bit every morning about how I’m feeling
- Stay connected with my loved ones through video chats
- Do something to go deep everyday – whether it be through something like meditation, reading poetry, great art, etc.
- Work with something I had put aside for lack of time (like playing ukulele!)
- Crank up some good music and dance like no one’s watching at least once a week
- Get on my mat 5-6 days a week
- Have a buddy system of someone I can talk to when things get rough
- Be grateful for what this big slow down has brought me, naming them daily
- Chocolate and red wine in moderation
- Be ok with saying, “I need a day off for me”
Years ago, I worked in places with people whose immune systems were compromised, and I had more than one class on how to wash my hands well. In all my years in and out of those places, I think good hand washing for at least 20 seconds kept me from many colds and flus, as well as spreading contagious diseases to anyone else. I learned that the amount of 20 seconds is important, and we were taught the routine of singing “Happy Birthday” for two verses, which is about 20 seconds. So I keep washing my hands, though I have expanded my repertoire – cause there is so much more music that is fun to sing! If you want to know some of my favorites, I’ve listed them at the end of this, and you can find all of these on the “My Favs” playlist on my YouTube channel. Please let me know if you have some good ones, too.
Acting Locally: In the meantime, our area of CR is hurting from a lack of tourism. Tourism provides a lot of jobs for the people of Guanacaste, and since mid-March there has been none. Facing this, all the big hotels in our area are closed, and for a while, all the restaurants were closed as well. For a long time the government kept all the beaches closed mainly to encourage people to stay home. Slowly, things are opening, though many of the big hotels won’t reopen until probably November. We have continued to support our staff member, making sure that her family has food and electricity, as well as contributing to feeding others in our area, especially our friends from the Ecodesi Senior Center. I do appreciate the number of people in our area who are pitching in as well. When Covid-19 first closed our borders, there was one main food bank in our area, and now there are two big ones, with smaller ones in the villages. I am daily reminded of the importance of community. This kind of coming together is what counts.
In response to the initial restrictions that mandated no in-person gatherings, I reluctantly began to teach yoga through Zoom. Reluctantly because I love being in the same space with a class, and the chance to have more ability to see and respond to each student. Now, five months later, I am so glad that I did. To accommodate for how many people’s income changed, I began classes on a donation basis, pay only what you can, if you can, everyone welcome. And I am still operating in that mode, Mondays and Thursdays at 8:30-10am CR time. Because yoga is what is getting me through this, and I want to be accessible for everybody and every body. Please pass this along to anyone you know who maybe can’t afford classes, or has never wanted to try because they didn’t want to enter a studio with others.
I have recordings of classes on my YouTube channel, and anyone can practice with me when its convenient. I am also beginning to record some short videos that will help prepare someone who has never done yoga before. These will be sort of a “how to get comfortable before you walk into a class” kind of thing. I have a playlist on my site now for Starting Yoga, and will be adding to this as time goes on. If you have any things you wish someone had prepared you for before you began yoga classes, please let me know. I have my list of ideas, but would love to hear yours!
Here is the link for the first Starting Yoga video on prepping hands and wrists:
Even as I write this, another unarmed black man has been shot by police in front of his family. I know that this is a time that is ripe for change. I am sure many of you are having the same types of conversations that we are having here and with our families. The issue of racism affects us all, and I have been reading, listening, learning, and adding my voice to calls for justice. It is time to honestly look at why we “other” people who are in some way different from us, and pull up the roots of our own biases and racism. Yoga is about unity, and I am doing my work to move towards that. Thanks to all of you who are doing your work.
by David Whyte
if you move carefully
through the forest,
like the ones
in the old stories,
who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,
you come to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it,
that can make
that have patiently
waited for you,
that have no right
to go away.
Til next time, may your questions lead to the most interesting places, and may you be well.