Teaching Yoga Is An Oxymoron

Students come to my classes and immediately apologize. “I’ve gained, like, a hundred pounds,” an absolutely gorgeous woman moaned to me the other day.

“My balance is terrible.”

“I can’t touch the floor with both hands.”

“My shoulders are really, really tight.”

And underneath all of this is the common thread: “I’m just not very good at yoga.”

I just returned from a week of study with one of the most respected and accomplished yoga teachers in the modern world, someone who studied yoga in India before it became a lifestyle statement that allowed you to wear stretchy leggings to the grocery store. Someone who is not afraid to articulate thoughts with clarity and compassion. Someone who understands that when you point a finger at someone else, you’re pointing the other four at yourself.

And what this teacher reminded us all, continuously, throughout the week, is that in teaching yoga, we are not creating something within the student. To the contrary, we are creating an environment in which what is already present within the student, within every human being in the world, can begin to emerge. Every asana, every breath in pranayama, every vibration in the sound of “om” allows the student to strip away the layers of the ego to reveal what is underneath. “Practicing yoga is like peeling an onion,” the teacher said. “It takes you a while to get to the center.”

Oxymoron is such a great word, isn’t it? It sounds like it should be an insult, but instead, it simply refers to a couple of words that are self-contradictory, like “jumbo shrimp” or “pretty ugly.” And now that I’m back at work after a three month hiatus (hopefully, more to come about this), I’ve started to think about myself in a different way.

You can’t teach people what they already know. But you can remind them how to see it if they’ve forgotten where it is. I call myself a yoga teacher, because that’s what people understand. But all I’m really doing is facilitating my students’ experience of their own yoga. I’m giving them space and permission to feel their bodies and their breath and their spirits, most of which have been living under layers of criticism and doubt and dissociation for decades.

When they thank me for a good class, I smile and remind them that a yoga practice is a co-creation between the teacher and the student. I know some don’t believe me. But I hope that over time, these students begin to see in themselves what is already there, what I see when they are on their mats, and what I’m working so diligently to nourish and maintain in myself…

The yoga inside us all.