Some reflections from the workshop Simplicity, Focus, & Sustainability offered in October. At the beginning of the workshop, a few yogis shared why they practice; answers ranged from anxiety management and physical longevity to the joy and fun that learning, community, and exploring the body and heart bring. Whatever it is for you, there is a draw to understand, to unravel, to experience, and ultimately, to be engaged with your life. And, among many excellent discussion points, one of the questions that I want to share from the group discussion at the end is: from a teacher's perspective, what are the key qualities that make a good student? Here are my thoughts :
1) Openness - by which I mean curiosity, willingness to learn from both what immediately resonates and what doesn't. Openness naturally develops positive qualities like generosity - is there anything more generous than to listen? This does not mean naïveté, lack of boundaries, or taking a teacher/presenter/authority figure and the information they present as inherently true to your own value structure, which brings me to...
2) Discernment - using and developing critical thinking skills to sift through the massive amount of poor, and downright incorrect, information available that often obscures true understanding. This does not mean cynicism, coldness, or lack of trust. Because Ahimsa (non-harm) and karuna (compassion) are at the heart of yoga, I find that these are the two questions to ask consistently when there is information overload : What alleviates suffering and harm to myself, my community, and the world? What causes suffering and harm to myself, my community, and the world?
3) Enthusiasm & Determination - a desire and will to keep exploring, taking in, parsing, and honing understanding. One of my meditation teachers has said that a good student has to think like a thief - the valuables aren't always in plain sight. You must watch, observe, learn and pick up the qualities that you see that aren't necessarily told to you.
On the other side of this question : what are the key qualities that make a good teacher? Chaundra, Jen and I touched on this during our IG live discussion as we talked about guru mentality, but this is something that we, as students and as teachers and students who teach need to continue to explore. In addition to the three above, I think that for this path, these two are the most important :
1) Integrity - humility, honesty, gratitude, and compassion should be evident in interactions with you, with others, with random strangers. It's so important to study and surround yourself with the people you want to emulate, not the people whose status/power/wealth/success you want. In this practice, the pursuit of fame, validation, and proximity to power are generally investments without good returns.
2) Clarity of purpose - Is there a demonstrable, embodied understanding of the path of practice beyond concept? Concepts are easy to parrot, easy to quote at the beginning of a class, and even easier to use as a caption beneath a captivating yoga pose photo. Where a person spends the majority of their time and energy will constitute their real-life knowledge.
To me, these qualities are admirable, inspiring, and increasingly rare in our culture where the global yoga and wellness industry has grown to 4.2 TRILLION (at twice the rate of the global economy since 2017. Wow.). Now, for you, that might not blow your mind, but it is undeniable that the commercialisation of "wellness" has had an impact on how it is taught, perceived, and received. I highly recommend that you listen to the podcast I've linked below if you want to dive into the creation of one of the most dominant teachers currently in the American yoga zeitgeist.
As a note to any fellow teachers reading this : throughout the years of teaching many, many classes, I’ve found that the more I focus on staying true to my mission as a teacher of this subject and continuing to develop all of these qualities the less I feel I need to use other people’s words, flashy poses, the “right” clothes, the dreamy yoga teacher voice - and countless other tools yoga teachers can use to brand ourselves and what we offer as authentic - in order to teach effectively. In fact, consciously letting go of those crutches has deepened my own practice and helped me to communicate more clearly. As such, my mantra in teaching is the same as in my practice : keep it simple, keep it focused, make it sustainable. Wisdom is already present.