Sunday, July 11, 2010

A learning from the German

What a week.... I tell you what my teaching muscles are weary and so are my smile muscles (that's another one to add to my work in progress novel 'Manly Complaints' - a list of the most ridiculous whinges I hear from this little piece of paradise I'm fortunate enough to call home).

I mean, what a week.  I think I ended up teaching around 15 classes all up. So by the end of my teachathon I felt pretty standard up there. Fittingly, the week's teaching ended with a rather curious Level 2 ashtanga class which I was covering for my teacher. 

Level 2 means the students should be pretty familiar with the ashtanga primary series and have at least 6  months experience. Well it was 5pm Sunday evening, after an awesome 'Christmas in July' dinner with some pommy mates (turkey, stuffing, brussels, the lot) I had to take my turkey belly off to teach this class (no mulled wine for the yogi sadly). It's the school holidays and it was a suitably drizzly dank day (very British Christmas) so I expected a small class and thought, we'll whip through the sequence and I won't demonstrate at all (due to my turkey baby) which you can easily do with ashtanga since people know the poses. Too easy. And, as I thought, it was a small class, but that's where the meeting of my expectations ended.

There were two girls who were pretty experienced and two guys who I couldn't even describe as beginners. Well there was one, a  German chap, who'd never done any ashtanga, I think he'd probably been to one yoga class before in his life. He was fully tattooed up, massive arms, chest bared, like a man going into battle, a huge guy with a lazy linger of a smile which sat mischievously in one corner of his mouth.

So, I opened the class by getting everyone settled, legs up the wall, coming into their breath and body and then when we were about to start the sun salutes when he says: 'I can't understand you, can you please speak better?' 

'As in louder?' I replied

'No, you know, better, better pronunciation...'

So I thought, okay, English is not his first language, that's cool, I'll have a go at speaking more clearly. No problem.

We went through the salutes and he clearly had never done one before. So I was right next to him, going through the up-dog, down dog, chataranga-motions, the Christmas sprouts and pigs in blankets nudging at my throat, threatening; but I carried on and demonstrated almost every salute, because he wasn't really responding to my clear-instruction endeavours.

In between demonstrating I was adjusting the students in down dog by placing my hands on their lower back and when I put my palms on his sacrum he lets out this funny little squeal and then, 'ahhhhhhh, oooooh' 

'Sorry were my hands cold?' I asked

'Oooh noooooo, it's just niiiiice'

I couldn't help but laugh, and nor could the other students in the class. I kept thinking, focus, this class is turning into a shambles, keep  the students focused. This is Ashtanga, it's meant to be serious business this ashtanga.

And so the madness continued... Of course it would.

We were about an hour in and I felt I had to say something. I needed to break the ice, pop this over-blown (slightly psychedelic) balloon we'd created here in this yoga-space. So I started laughing at an opportune moment and said:

'Man this is a funny class' 

It was like the air rushed straight out of the balloon, pure relief, and suddenly everyone was laughing. 

Well the yoga went out the window, along with the air. So much for coming into a beautiful yogic state of concentration and pure awareness.

Oh well. It was funny. 

Right at the end of the class, one last ditched attempt I thought 'I know - eye bags.' Those wonderful little lavender-scented bags of beans always help people to go inwards; maybe I can win back some focus here. Wonderful. Everyone can get fully immersed in their savasana. So I start handing out eye bags.

'I don't like eye bags' a booming voice replied.

Oh well, that's it, everyone was off again... 

Well, it was certainly a learning experience. I've never known a student to challenge the unofficial 'yogetiquette' of silence in class (or at least an appropriate quiet in those down-time moments or during postures, unless being spoken to one-on-one with the teacher) and I was so aware of these experienced students perhaps wanting and needing a good class.

I felt like I was patient with him. I hope I was able to give something to the other other students.... I still wonder if I acted 'correctly' and what else I could have done. 

Realising now there's so much more to teaching than standing up in front of a few people talking through the postures.

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