Last night in the yoga class I subbed (I teach fitness), I played a very multicultural, fusionist mix of yoga trance music with beautiful renditions of Ghungroos (the bells worn on the feet in some forms of Indian dances), a delicious karsilaama on African drums, and a more serene sitar and droning harmonium piece. A woman about my age (late-40s) sprung up from the mat following shavasana and started jabbing the buttons on the stereo. “Those drums,” she screeched, “those drums are driving me crazy! Oh, god, those drums!”
After I got over my initial shock, I calmly asked her if she was staying for the next class (I was using the same music in that class). I asked her, “Was it that particular piece or the whole CD?” I knew it was probably the African piece, and offered her a concession that I wouldn’t play that particular piece in the next class. She reluctantly agreed and stayed for the next class, but I could sense her ill feeling throughout the class, particularly toward the music (which I stopped half-way through class) and eventually directing its way toward me.
The yoga classroom, whether I am a sub or not, mirrors the classroom. I am there to teach, listen, serve, coach, and encourage. I hope that I learn something new and I hope that my class learns something also. I am passionate about fitness, not just yoga. I workout almost every day and I practice what I preach: I eat right for myself 95% of the time, I learn new things and try new things, and I find a way to quiet that omnipresent self-doubt that burbles just below the surface, saying, “Oh, this isn’t going well. Not well at all.”
One student, we all know as teachers, can really ruin a lesson, a class. The turmoil they feel, the angst and unwillingness to let go and just be in the moment, can drag everyone down. As a teacher, I am responsible for lifting people up, so its even more important to reflect on their needs.
The missing link was I was not tapping into my passion. I wasn’t connected to what makes my regular class special and my students are willing and joyfully open to all the music I play, evidenced in their asking about the name of the CD or artist or song. That joy and openness manifests itself into the movement in yoga, where we spontaneously dance and laugh and genuinely enjoy the practice.
In Teaching Like a Pirate, Burgess encapsulates this so well, writing: “An instructor who is fully immersed in the moment has a special type of intensity that resonates with great power in the classroom, regardless of the activity.” (p. 16) Passion without immersion will not do it alone. They work hand-in-hand.
My personal passions involve improv tribal bellydance, which (in teacher talk) involves collaborative structures (a troupe formation), an academic vocabulary (one which allows us to dance with others all over the world without even knowing the language), and a specific purpose (as if I needed a reason to dance). It is a discipline like no other. It is beautiful, exquisite, life-affirming, and all in the moment. I am passionate and fully immersed and there is such power in that for the audience. In fact, I can perform on stage (or even in troupe practice) in terrible spiritual distress (there’s been a lot of long-term medical issues in my household and for my fellow troupe members) and I forget all of this and just am focused on the dance and my fellow dancers. Passion and immersion have power.
Dance and yoga are both metaphors for life. These so clearly resonate within my being, and both are so accessible to all (like learning). If someone cooked up your favorite meal with all the sides and desserts you could ever dream of and placed it on a table before you, would you say, “Oh, I just couldn’t. No, no, no!”? Our classrooms have to be powerful. Our teaching has to be powerful. What we offer students has to be relevant and challenging. We have to show them our passion and immerse them in our intensity.
We are going to have students who only hear the cacophony of the drums and whose issues explode into technocolor (sorry, I’ve lived a bit…this means with high definition) within a heartbeat of a lesson. The mere challenge of silencing that little voice or reflecting on why-is-it-I-feel-this-way gives way to reactions and impulses (some biologically rooted deep within the brain). It’s not that I was trying to save the student, I was minimizing her to save the class. It didn’t work. I have to hone my skills even further (more endless learning and practicing opportunities–yay!) and train myself to draw from a place of passion so that I am fully immersed. Burgess offers us ways in TLAP right off the bat to go there–that place of passion (it doesn’t have to be your love of teaching because gosh, knows there is no love when your impulsive, angry drum-hating student is acting on impulse). Instead of saying, “They don’t pay me enough for this” or “Oh, no! Another year of this nonsense,” I choose to go to where I am immersed and in the moment (and yes, I will use good strategies to de-escalate the drama), but there is power in passion and immersion. Misery is optional.