It’s rare that you begin a journey that will definitely only take a set amount of time, then find that the road keeps unfurling invitingly before you. The unexpected twists and turns are delightful, an infinite puzzle with layers of joy, sometimes frustration, but, ultimately, incredible growth. Such has been my journey in yoga. I remember with clarity one of my first classes at Down Under Yoga. I had taken yoga classes before, but this particular class was different. Half way through class, the teacher came over, mentioned me by name, and gently guided space into a part of my thoracic spine that was out of mental reach after a lifetime spent poring over books. The personal attention, and the power of that simple assist, stuck with me. Later I read a passage that sums up this moment, and also what I aspire to as a teacher. I think about this quote every class before I start teaching.
If we respect each person individually, it naturally means we will always start from where each person currently is. The starting point is never the teacher’s needs, but those of the student (T.K.V. Desikachar)
When time allowed, I signed up for the 200 yoga teacher training, thinking that this might help me to finally reach sirsasana (head stand). Within weeks my physical practice evolved, thanks to Natasha Rizopoulos’ forearm plank and baby cobra prescription. The mental game changer, however, came when sitting in a circle with Natasha as we discussed Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and the concepts of constant effort and non-attachment. This lesson is incredibly important, in sirsasana, but also in restoratives (my teaching focus). Consistent practice is hard (even when it involves bolsters and blankets!) but from it grows a complete and utter love of practicing, and the joy that comes with realizing how strongly the body and mind respond to that effort.
Towards the end of the 200 hour teacher training with Natasha, Kate Heffernan, and Michael Ponte, after 2 nanoseconds of debate with myself, I launched into the 300 hour training and went on to study assisting with Einat Peled-Katz, Lisa Miller, and Masaaki Okamura. One of the strongest components of both the teacher training and the assisting training, is the encouragement to practice. In the 500 hour teacher training this helped me to develop my voice, but I was also exposed to many different teaching styles. Each teacher is so unique, but each carries a ton of integrity and a different approach to that same attention and support that I saw in my first classes at Down Under Yoga. And these trainings introduced me to many wonderful and dedicated fellow students and friends that I also learned (and continue to learn) so much from. I still miss those weekends with fellow travelers!
There is another element that I found in my training: mentorship. I am now teaching in the restorative school (and will talk more about restoratives at a later point), and remain in Nicole Clark’s incredible mentorship and training. The relationship between a student and their teacher is a very special one. I truly believe that it is through the special bond that we form with a mentor and teacher that growth comes. A mentor brings kindness, but also rigorously objective feedback where they call it like it is, provide supportive honesty, and ask you the really tough questions. They encourage you to use your voice, and add that extra blanket to support an unaligned hip even though mentally you have convinced yourself that you are fine where you are. Indeed, we all sometimes tell ourselves that we’re fine just where we are, but a teacher and mentor will see when you need extra support, and when it’s time to embark and move on to the next leg of the journey. This type of mentorship has turned yoga into a journey that keeps unfolding for me, and as I teach my first classes at Down Under Yoga, I humbly strive to pass on to students the incredible knowledge that has been passed on to me.
In the Greek epic, The Odyssey, we often think of the lost hero Odysseus and his long journey home. But at home, Odysseus has a son who also sets out on a journey to search for his lost father. The son is encouraged to take this journey on the advice of the goddess Athena, who appears to him disguised as his caretaker. What is the name of the character that delivers Athena’s message of support? This character’s name is Mentor, a word linked through various roots to knowledge, purpose, spirit, and passion.
Originally published on Down Under Yoga Voices blog