My Dad introduced me to yoga in the mid-90s when I was an angst-y teenager who refused to wear anything other than my maroon Doc Marten boots. It was a big deal for me to be barefoot in spandex and co-mingling with hippies, but I loved it too much to allow the hippies to ruin it for me (I love hippies now, by the way!). Fast forward 17 years and here I am today, having just finished a Yoga District Teacher Training. It was teachers like Mike who intensified my love for yoga and inspired me to finally do a training after all of this time. I had taken Mike’s class a gazilion times before doing the training, and he was kind enough to allow me to observe a few of his classes as part of my training requirements.
Observing a yoga class was new territory for me. Honestly, my expectation was that I would grow frustrated as I sat idle watching fellow yogis sweat it out over a few rounds of Eka Pada Koundinyasana. But that wasn’t the case! At the risk of sounding like the recent “Shit Yogis Say” youtube video, watching a yoga class unfold is a wildly illuminating, psychedelic and energetic experience. One that will make you rethink the power of collective energy, and further acknowledge the intense appreciation you have for your teacher.
Teachers are the train conductors. And by train, I’m not referring to the civilized Amtrak quiet car, but rather Ozzy Osbourne’s crazy train going off the rails. Think about it: there they are with a room full of passengers ready (or not) to be taken on a trip through breath and posture, and perhaps even feed their spirit along the way. They all differ in body, mind, experience, and attitude, but all of them hope the conductor will get them to where they need to go. In addition to ensuring that the train leaves on time and all are, indeed, aboard, teachers are also conducting the sequencing, music, timing, demonstrating, people who aren’t listening, people who aren’t thinking, and people who are thinking too much. And once they have a handle on all of that, they, of course, also need to make sure that no one is going to break any one of their 206 bones (a number I learned in Teacher Training!). This requires intense preparation, or an uncanny ability to innovate and improvis
But there’s one more thing that they do. As you already know, there is an intense amount of collective energy in a yoga class. Up until I observed class, I experienced this energy from my own mat. Always grateful to my fellow yogis for their energetic contributions, I still internalized it and channeled it for my own body and mind. The energy can be uplifting, intense, sad, filled with joy, or some combination of them all. Watching this energy evolve was fascinating, and it’s the teacher who plays a vital role in the evolution. The energy is the constant. When that many people get together to breath, reflect, practice asana and meditate, a build-up of energy is simply unavoidable. The variable, however, is the power we give to it and the methods we use to channel it. And this is where the teacher comes in.e on the spot. Or both.
The power of collective energy is palpable. I’ve observed two classes thus far, and each one had their own energetic identity.
The first class was filled with an intense joy and lightheartedness, but only after about 30 minutes of intense asana. People arrived to this class quiet and almost somber, but strangely the energy shifted and joy was all around. Mike played a major role in this by allowing the energy to evolve naturally, but also guiding it, knowing when to let it ride, when to make a joke, when to talk dharma.
The second class was practically the opposite. People arrived jovial and giggly, to the point where it became necessary for Mike to do a longer centering practice in the beginning that included pranayama and chanting. This set the energetic tone and there was an undeniable intensity in the room. Yogis seemed to be entranced by the music and the collective breath was loud and full of life. As the class progressed, the intensity continued to build and it was impossible to ignore. Mike, once again, knew when to let it build, when to take it down a notch by cracking a joke, and when to bring people’s attention to it. At the end of that class we sat together, riding high from the collective energy. We listened as Mike spoke about the energy in the room, guiding us to tune-in to it, internalize it, share it, and use it for powerful transformation.
I suppose this blog post is a really, really long-winded way of saying that it takes a lot to be a great yoga teacher. So….have you hugged your yoga teacher today?
About Cara Her dad introduced her to yoga in the mid-90’s and…wow! what a gift. Since then, Cara has moved around a lot, but has never forgotten to bring along her yoga and meditation practice. From Pittsburgh to Prague to New York and most recently to DC, Cara has been incredibly lucky to have found amazing yogis along the way. Yoga and meditation have allowed Cara to see that the divine is truly everywhere. She has a fondness for aesthetic, artistic and visual expression, which is what inspired her to go to architecture school and what makes her job as a designer really, really fun!