I learned how to teach aged 7

I remember, at the age of 7 my grandad said he’d teach me to ride my bike without stabilisers. I was excited! I didn’t do anything like this with my grandad!
I sat nervously on my bike outside and waited for him.
“Not on the pavement” he said. “you don’t cycle on the pavement. On the road”
This road?! The one the cars, buses, and articulated lorries on their way to I.C.I. drive down?!
“Of course, where else?”
He brandished a spanner and removed both stabilisers.
Whaaat!? Both of them? Surely we should go for the more sensible approach, simply raising them a little so they’re not quite on the floor but still there in case I lose my balance.
I don’t recall his exact response but I’m sure it was something like “Do you want to learn to ride without stabilisers or not?”

I never saw my grandad more patient and supportive as he was that day. I assumed it would take weeks to learn, slowly getting used to those raised little wheels, keeping hold of that safety blanket whilst I honed my balance, but that wasn’t how it was going to go. Up and down the road we went with him holding the saddle, running along side me, stopping and waiting for the occasional bus or lorry to trundle past (this was 1978, traffic still ‘trundled’). I kept looking back to check he was there holding me.
“Keep your eyes ahead, pay attention to where you’re going!”
Over and over, over and over, up and down… until one time I looked round and there he was, a hundred miles away, smiling. I was riding for the first time on my own and the world had changed ever so slightly, massively, I felt something new. Freedom.
Did he do any of the riding for me? No, he revealed to me the simple fact that I could ride. Keeping me safe and under his guiding hand just long enough and no longer.
This is how I aspire to teach. No stabilisers. I don’t have much interest in showing people what they can do with props – I want them to understand what they’re capable of without them. What it feels like to be free.
A teacher’s guidance should help you on your journey towards yourself, towards that supreme teacher who whispers instructions to you in silence. If not, you are being led nowhere.
I get this comical image of my grandad, were he alive, stumbling along the roads of London holding the saddle of my bike as I ride to work. Absurd I know, but in a manner of speaking isn’t this what many people who attend yoga classes are doing, even those dedicated to weekly lessons? Have they fallen into the trap of riding with their stabilisers on into ‘maturity’ whilst their teacher runs alongside them holding the saddle, facilitating a fun ride once or twice a week instead of showing them the way to cycle on their own? At what point does help become robbery?
I sound like I’m throwing accusations at fellow yoga teachers but I’m not. There are so many great teachers in London that students here are spoilt for fine choice, rather I’m urging the practitioners to become aware of when they’re robbing themselves.
My grandad taught me to ride by teaching me to trust in my own ability, but what if I’d have chosen not to to cycle again without stabilisers unless he was there watching over me? Where would my new found freedom be then? What if I went and reattached them? Ridiculous!
Riding a bike has only one ‘revelation’. Once you can ride you can ride, but your journey on the path of yoga has myriad revelations. A good teacher shows you HOW to practice. HOW to engage, HOW to see, to listen, to feel, but he can’t do it for you. My own teacher used the analogy that if you want to pull up the rug to see what’s under there, he will lift one corner for you, but you have to lift the other three yourself.
Your greatest discoveries are made during your self practice. So practice! Practice persistently! “Keep your eyes ahead and pay attention to where you’re going” and trust that you can succeed. Lift the rug and see what lies beneath but know this, there are many many rugs to lift along this long and winding path, so many revelations! But once you know HOW to lift a corner, you can lift them all, one by one, by yourself. You wont need to rely on me forever, if I do my job right.

What Style of Yoga Do I Teach? The Art Of Shovelling Sh#t

    “ What’s your style?”

Any boy who grew up in the 70’s, or 80’s even, will surely know the answer to that question.
“Iss called da ard of fighding widoud fighding” ~ the immortal words of Bruce Lee.

When someone asks me what style of yoga I teach, being a child of the 70’s, I often hear these words pass through my mind. Once I start stumbling through my overly long and unnecessarily complex answer, which I’m sure loses them after the first minute (What?! your answer lasts more than a minute?!) I find myself yearning for an answer with the punch of Bruce Lee’s.

And so I have been advised to work on my ‘Lift Speech’. “Sum up what you do in 10 seconds”.

Really? I can’t sum anything up in 10 seconds. My brain likes to complicate things, which makes me a pretty bad networker.  A preferable quality it seems for someone trying to earn a living from what is now a multi billion dollar industry! Wow, I didn’t see that coming when I first put foot on this path back in the early 90’s. You were lucky if you could find a class in the local gym back then, and the only yoga clothes were dodgy tie dye pants from Camden market.

I struggle with the modern day commercialisation of this ancient spiritual practice, but at the same time I ask myself, how else am I going to get by in these times of rising rents and living costs if I don’t succumb to that which I loathe? (loathe might be a little strong but you get the point).

“So what do you do?”
“I teach yoga”
“Oh right, what style do you teach?”
“There is only one style of yoga at the end of the day. It’s called the art of shovelling shit. Your own shit. Cleaning up your house and throwing away your junk. Polishing your floors and opening the windows to let the air circulate, oiling the hinges so they don’t squeak, then getting a nice big fire going. What happens after that depends on how well you took care of the basics.”

Hmmm, I’m not sure that’d work as my lift speech. Perhaps people are asking the wrong question.

The word ‘yoga’ means different things to different people and this is an important point, because as soon as I tell someone I’m a yoga teacher they instantly project their understanding of the word yoga onto me.

It’s like watching a movie and thinking ‘oh right, this is like that comedy I watched last month’ or Horror, or Si-Fi, or whatever. We like to categorise things, put them into genres, into pigeon holes. If someone already has a clear idea of what yoga is, then whatever ‘style’ I teach they will naturally pigeon hole it. ‘Hatha’, ‘Vinyasa’, ‘Dynamic’, ‘Flow’, ‘Dynamic Vinyasa Flow’. It’s not a perfect analogy but you catch my drift. Maybe the exchange should go more like this:
“What do you do?”
“I teach yoga”
“Yoga! What’s the point?!”

Hmmm, that caught me off guard, what use is my lift speech now? I’ll try this..

“Well…it calms the mind”
“I don’t need my mind calming”
“It’s good for your breathing”
“I can already breathe”
“Do you have tight hamstrings? It can help with…”

The Yoga Industrial/Complex (I just made that up) has one objective. Selling yoga. Why would it make the effort to open up meaningful dialogues with people about what yoga might mean to the individual, when it can simply sell pre-packaged variations from the ‘yoga shop’? Why encourage people to think when you just want them to consume? For all the new ‘styles’ of yoga out there, how many of them teach one to reflect and look deeper inside themselves?
Those who are selling yoga in the ‘wellbeing’ market place want people to look outward and compare themselves to others, to read glossy yoga magazines and see beautiful adverts with sexy yoga models perfectly reinforcing the modern global representation of what yoga is really about. It’s highly marketable for sure, and it’s a trap, because it limits ones perception of this ancient practice, of this science. It’s subtle, insidious and it’s powerful. You don’t feel yourself falling into this trap, so you don’t try and get out. And even if you did…would you? You love being a sparkly ‘yoga guy/girl’, don’t you? Go on, admit it.

This is where the guidance of a good teacher comes into its own.

The art of advertising is convincing someone they need your product even if they don’t, or that they need your version even when they already have someone else’s. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to sell a product. I don’t want to convince someone that they need my version. But…but, I do need to let them know what I am offering and how it might benefit them personally.

“So what do you do?”
(Don’t say teach yoga, don’t say teach yoga!) “I help people”.
“Hmmm, intriguing. What do you mean? How?”

OK, I staved off the “What’s your style?” question. What next?

A meaningful dialogue perhaps, about how my skills and knowledge may be able to positively impact their life on a more personal, individual level? Perhaps.

We’ll have to talk about it and find out.