When I teach, there are certain phrases I repeat over and over again: bring your navel toward your spine, release your shoulders down your back, lead with the heart, etc. You’ll also hear me say things like, “Send the energy out of your left heel,” “breathe into the right lung,” and “root your mula into the earth.” If you’ve taken more than one of my classes, you’re bound to have heard all of those and probably more. I like words. I’m pretty good with them. I use them to create images and instruction. I use them to guide and inform and adjust.
I spent a good deal of time in the beginning of my teaching career not touching my students. I think probably all yoga teachers are like that in the beginning. It’s intimidating enough to be in the front of the room teaching, the idea of laying hands on someone can be downright terrifying. In those early weeks and months, I got pretty good at using my words alone to get folks to move their bodies in a way that improved the stability or effectiveness of a posture. I also got pretty good at going to a student and hovering my hand above / behind / beside them and saying, “move your arm (leg, heel, ribs, etc.) toward my hand.” It worked well enough to get me through to the stage where I felt comfortable enough to lay a gentle hand, give gentle pressure or traction, and gently adjust someone physically. There’s a healing power in the human touch and I am no longer afraid of it.
That’s not to say that I always have to use my words OR my body while teaching. I’ve been observing how this dynamic plays out and I’m starting to experience teaching moments that feel like I’ve become a Jedi! I can walk around the room and, when I come near my core group of regular students, or even amongst highly intuitive newer students, they automatically pull their knees a little further out to the side in Vira 2, drop their shoulders, sink deeper into Vira 1, reach further through their ribcages in Trikonasana. They will reach through their heels and press their forearms into the mat in Sirsasana, press their hips a little higher to the sky in Urdhva Dhanurasana, etc. I don’t have to touch them or say a word – they just see me coming and do it all on their own.
How does that happen? I think it’s because they know, intuitively, where they can adjust themselves to make the best of their practice. I was speaking to one of my students about this just this morning and she said, “Well, I never even think about it until I see you coming and then I just know what you’re going to say!” Perhaps she knows what I’m going to say, but I feel it’s more along the lines of she knows where she’s supposed to be. That’s intuition. That’s inwardly directed yoga. It’s within us all. The joy of teaching yoga is being able to provide a safe space for students to explore this part of themselves and discover it is alive and well, strong and powerful.
It is The Force … and it’s already with you.