Today, I was overcome with a fierce desire for diplomas, for certificates, for material legitimacy. I wanted to hold in my hand knowledge that I learned something, meta-knowledge, perhaps. I wanted to get all kinds of certifications - vinyasa, prenatal yoga, kids yoga, Jivamukti, Anusara, you name it - and hang them on my dorm room walls. I wanted tangible knowledge that I am learning, something I can touch because right now, bits and pieces of life-altering knowledge are being sewn together in my head.
But then, sitting in my YTT, I realized that knowledge that I have learned is not tangible, but it can be measured. It is measured through teaching.
What good is an education if you don’t do anything with it? Off The Mat And Into The World is both a name of an organization that I love and it happens to conveniently sum up all of yoga philosophy. What good is a pose if it is not an embodiment of something larger? What good is the yoga on the mat if it does not serve you and others when the 90 minutes are up?
Master teacher Michael Hewett says his reason for creating the Sarva Yoga Academy is because too often, he sees artists go on to become yoga teachers initially as a way to finance their passions for art while doing something that can enhance their art on a spiritual level. Then, once they “officially” become teachers, they switch hats with an either/or mentality, that dualism, the extremes, that yoga warns us against. They abandon their art for this spiritual practice, devoting all their time to yoga. They miss the point. The point of all this svadyaya (self-study) and spiritualism is not a life in its own right. It is a practice to enhance life. Yoga itself is an education in life. It is every practitioners dharma - their duty - to go out and live it, off the mat and in the world.
I am undertaking many a spiritual journey this summer and one of these is a creative one. I love to write. I write Young Adult fiction and poetry. I need yoga to keep my mind clear so the creative bursts may emerge. Yoga is not a copout for creativity and I am grateful there are teachers who do both/and instead of either/or to show me the way.
This is the issue with “professional,” “full-time” students. You know the type - the 40-year-olds roaming campus who are not your professors. I am of the school of thought that with extensive education, with intensive learning, there is an obligation to teach. Those students have a duty, a dharma, to teach and pass on what they are learning.
If everyone is a student - and everyone is - they everyone is also a teacher. We have everything within to succeed. To not use it is a waste. Through learning, we teach and eventually, through teaching, we learn. We teach to preserve what we have learned.
I became a Spanish tutor when my high school had to cut out its foreign language department due to budget cuts. I wanted to continue learning Spanish so badly. In order to progress, I had to practice it and in order to get to the more advanced vocabulary and grammar, I had to go over my basics. So what did I do? I started teaching it to someone else. Now, doing this YTT, I am doing the same thing. I am learning what a carefully-aligned tadasana can do for my spine through breaking it down for beginners. Then, in my own practice, I am able to go further because I have cleared that mental space for the new to come in.
The more I shed what I do not need and give it to others, the more space I get in my own life. That space is not vacant and certainly does not lie dormant. No, that space is intended for the new to come in. Without room in our minds, bodies, hearts, there is no space for the new to enter. That is why we practice vinyasa. In training tonight, I was told that vinyasa means “to place in a special way.” That special way invites a sequence which is intended to create space in the poses so that we may gain new - otherwise known as deeper - expressions in future poses. Every pose is part of a greater process for which there is no end result. It can’t, therefore, be about just one pose, a statement the director of my training cannot emphasize enough for students engaged in a tug-of-war of body and mind.
And so it is with teaching. We must create space to make way for the new, for larger and more expansive knowledge and for the subsequent, larger, and more expansive life. Teaching is the most direct form of giving, of recycling the old for the new so that others may do the same.
I am learning how to let the waves of the teachings that have come before me wash over, hydrating my body so that I may store that potential energy so that it can kinesthetize later in my own teaching.