My journey here in Glasgow is almost at an end. Being the surrogate leader these past few months has taught me a lot. I came here without expectations, and started with what I knew. In the beginning, it was natural to approach the Mysore room like a 2-hour assisting stint with chanting half way through. Over time, however, I learned to inhabit the presence of a teacher. Being the teacher is more than just moving bodies around. You have to know how to approach a student, when to push them harder than they think they can go and when to back off. You have to trust not only the practice and the students, but also yourself. The first part is easy. As a student who studies under excellent teachers, my trust in the practice has already been fostered. Plus, the practice benefits from a long history and large sample of beneficiaries, and when treated with respect, it is not hard to see it’s efficacy.
Trusting the students also came pretty easily. The main thing I needed to know was that no one was going to hurt themselves. This was very straightforward with the Mysore groups (both morning and evening); each of the handful of regulars has been practicing for years, and ambition remained absent from the room. Sure, there were a few sporadic instances of asana-lust, but overall everyone clearly knew their own boundaries, and I was impressed with the lack of goal-orientation in all of the practitioners. Although everyone was very receptive to being challenged, I feel like the students in Glasgow have embodied the rule of 80% effort in practice. Try, but don’t try so hard that you can’t come back and try again tomorrow. It has been a very grounded room to move through.
Teaching my Tuesday night beginners course has had a very different feeling. It was extremely exciting to take the reigns and introduce Ashtanga to total newbies, but it certainly took more time before I could trust the students not to hurt themselves. In the beginning, there was confusion, exhaustion, distraction and even a bit of resistance to instruction Still, by introducing the asana slowly and keeping the focus on the breathing, I’ve seen a shift of awareness run through the room. It has been incredible to see how much progress can be made in such little time, and to witness the love of the practice grow. Each week the students leave smiling, proud of what they didn’t even realize they could do.
In the end, it was getting to work with the students day in-day out that made me believe in myself as a teacher. At first, I worried that I wasn’t doing or saying enough; that I wasn’t going to be helpful to anyone. But as I became better at bringing to my teaching the focused attention I try to cultivate during practice, the egoistic mind-chatter began to die down. It’s not really about me, after all. I learned to watch more and do less, to bypass hesitation and trust my own judgement. I have found that I am most confident when helping with things with which I have struggled the most. Which, of course, is what everyone always says, right? That hardships can often provide our most useful insights.
I have loved exploring the role of the teacher these past few months, and will genuinely miss the students and connections I have made here. However, I now more fully appreciate that in order to evolve as a teacher, I must go home to my own practice. Although my practice has been consistent, there is no substitute to the watchful eyes of an experienced teacher, the feeling of practicing with a dedicated community, and the freedom to focus on learning that being a student affords.