Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A decade of teaching

With Guest blogger Cherise Vallet
Celebrating Cherise's ten years of teaching at Yoga Spirit Studios

My birthday more or less coincides with when I began teaching at Yoga Spirit 10 years ago. Birthdays mark the passing of such a solid unit of time – a whole year. There, bam. Like a kilo of apples. An acre of land. A hundred dollar note. Another year. Then those years click together, side by side, and another chunk of time with a bigger thunk – a decade. And I’m still here.

First thing worth noting – I’ve never worked at any other job for 10 years, though I suppose this isn’t technically a ‘job’. More a delight. An opportunity.

The experience has been an ever-changing one and maybe why I’ve stuck with it so long is because of the variety that teaching offers – stimulation and challenge on all levels. Emotionally – facing fears, facing my ego. I’m sure students had no idea that there have been times I’d go home after teaching a class and wake up in the night full of self-criticism for some way I’d taught, how I’d missed explaining this or showing that, or that I allowed too short a time for savasana. I used to worry why my class numbers could be so low for awhile, and then high for a time – was I not teaching well? Over time I have learned to let go of that thinking for the most part – I know the way I teach doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I’ve found that the students that come back again and again are coming because they receive something from me, and I from them.

Cherise enjoying beach yoga in WA
I discovered Yoga Spirit Studios (then known as Torrensville Yoga Studio) in 2003. I had been doing a short yoga practice a friend had shown me several years previously, quite faithfully on most mornings up to that point. It only took about ½ hour and once memorised required little thought, just breathing and moving. This had become my routine while living in the beautiful southern countryside outside McLaren Vale. It was a few minutes that gave my body some nice stretches and maintained some strength, the breathing offered a particular sense of calming and balance that was fortifying during a period of immense change in my life. Then I moved back into the city in early 2003.

I missed the countryside so much once I came to the city – I could feel my whole being crying out at the loss of all that space and beauty. I saw an ad in the local Messenger paper for a 6-week Introduction to Yoga course and decided that could help fill the gap. The course was magic. Suddenly my body was invited to consider more deliberately the conscious thoughts of the mind, and even include awareness of the heart and what my body was feeling. In the first class I remember having tears stream down the sides of my face while reclining back into Savasana, soft little drips landing on the mat under my head. My heart felt so happy. My body felt so alive – I was aware of it all – the humming thrum of blood moving through my veins, the swelling of my abdomen and chest as I breathed, the weight and length and breadth of my body and a profound sense of nourishment, happiness – coming home. And so my association with the Studio was born – first as a student, then as a teacher trainee, and then as an ongoing student and teacher for the past 10 years.

I’ve taught the Tuesday evening Experienced class for around the past seven years – a long time to teach one class, and there is a reliable core of people who have come to that class all that time. I feel connected to this little community of steady practitioners.

My classes in the McLaren Vale region where I have since moved back to have also attracted a small but loyal following. I’d love to be roaringly popular I suppose, but that’s not happened as indicated by large numbers of students. The wonderful people who come regularly, however, do bring such presence. And this helps me see that it’s not all in the hands of the teacher – the students who come along in such a steady way have a deep impact on the tone of the class, providing a sense of continuity and make it easier for me to build on themes/approaches etc.

Cherise does headstand in Spain
Every time I enter the doors of the Studio I get this sensation – I’m home. My body has a memory of that first night, I’m sure. When I do yoga these days, it’s less regimented, not aligned with a set of postures I repeat daily, though sometimes I’ll have weeks of spending time in particular postures, then gradually emerging into another range of postures. My faithful body is a good guide, and some of my most wonderful experiences of practice are when I simply follow the prompts of my arm moving, my leg wanting to stretch, the energy to move vigorously or desire to rest. It is food for my being, this yoga I know. A practice in consciousness, noticing the rise of impulse from my body, the long sigh of an outbreath, the way my arms support the weight of my torso in a particular pose, and my legs in another. In a yoga practice, my body is less of a robot and more of an alert animal, seeking the clearest line, the most delicate balance, the release of breath and stretch and softening. I come home to my body daily, and in this moment, in this practice.

I count myself very fortunate to have seen that Messenger ad for the Introduction to Yoga course so long ago. The path that first tearful savasana put me on has opened continually over the past decade through this experience of teaching yoga. It is a great privilege to be able to share these gifts of yoga to enhance life for myself and others. When I seek to enhance the lives of others, I am automatically nourished, I automatically receive the gift of my kind intentions. It’s quite a foolproof way to create happiness. And happy is how I feel to still be teaching yoga after all these years.