The bag’s unpacked, the books put away, and the suitcase back in storage. I’m home from spending two weeks in Encinitas with Tim Miller at his Second Series Teacher Training, and I can sum it up in Sam’s phrase, the last words of The Lord of the Rings: “He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”
Before I begin culling through my notes and pulling out the gems for future posts (believe it or not, more substantial things happened than finding Tim’s stunt appearance on Cheers), I thought I’d ruminate for a few moments about the meaning of a yoga teacher training.
You may or may not be aware that the fact that Tim Miller calls it a “teacher training” is something of an act of defiance. You might recall the moment at the first Confluence when David Swenson referred to his own teacher training and quipped, “Am I allowed to call it a teacher training?” The answer, technically, is “No”: Mysore (to use it metonymically) does not approve of the use of this term. So you get euphemisms like Nancy Gilgoff’s “adjustment clinic,” or Richard Freeman’s“teacher’s intensives.” Tim just calls it what it is, and I’m very grateful for that forthrightness–it’s something that characterizes his teaching, and is something I emulate in my own.
There really is no better way to learn a skill than to teach it, with the understanding that when you begin to teach it, you’re not going to be very good at it. Really, you have to be most afraid as a student of those teachers who aren’t painfully aware of what their weaknesses and biases are—the ones with big blind spots. They become stiff and formulaic, and stop growing as teachers, and stunt the growth of their students. All of us at the training were in awe of Tim’s rapid ability to learn from us. He tried out new things, analyzed their various values, framed them in the overall context of the practice. It was a remarkable thing to see.
It was a remarkable group of dedicated people at the training, and I miss them already. Most were indeed teachers. But not all. I can say that all of us had to cut out two weeks of our year to dedicate to day-long (from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.) yoga study, some at great personal cost.
This is my third teacher training with Tim, something that’s not unusual when it comes to Tim; for some, it wasn’t even their first time doing the Second Series training. It makes you ask: What is the value of the training for the larger yoga community? For us personally? What keeps bringing us back?
Of course, part of it is the physical (anandamayakosha) gain. Tim has such a strong presence in the room, that we all perform above and beyond our normal abilities. We practice with him, side-by-side; or he’s there with a sharp eye to point out when it’s time to progress, or what you need to be working on now. You learn the real scope of your current practice.
Because we spend so much time teaching each other the asanas, even those who don’t teach learn by doing instruction. Having to articulate, either with a verbal cue or with the hands, the emphasis of a pose, is a learning process in and of itself. We even learn correct pronunciation of the pose names. That is an invaluable level of detail.
Of course, there’s also the additional, deeper, physical detail of the asanas—the anatomy and structure of them. Tim’s way of teaching anatomy makes it clear that this is a vital way of understanding how Ashtanga works. Not the only way, but a crucial one, even if you’re not a teacher. It keeps you from being a kind of mindless meat puppet in your own practice.
And there is the philosophy of yoga, its texts, and its stories. Over the course of the two weeks, our afternoon talks accumulate into something that feels less like the underpinning of the practice and more like its whole purpose. I walked away with a very firm understanding of the Eight Limbs, and with the warning not to overdevelop one of them at the expense of all the others. “Are we making asanas out of ourselves?” asks Tim. I continue to value his ability to give each pose a deeper, emotional and even moral purpose, so our practice of yoga can have benefits beyond our own lives. Teaching certainly gives us this opportunity, even if “teaching” just means teaching yourself more tolerance, or learning to use your powers of discernment.
During our tearful certificate ceremony, Tim began by describing the mighty teaching of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, his hours and hours of teaching twelve students at a time at the old shala, and of his own desire to emulate the greatness of his teacher. Of course, all of us at the training feel this way about our teacher, and are amazed by his boundless energy and “fierce love.”
At our farewell party on the beach in Encinitas, under the Blue Moon, Tim said to me, “I hope you feel like you made the right choice.” I wasn’t sure I was ready for Second Series Teacher Training. Tim felt I was, so I went, all uncertain. Was I ready? Now, of course, it doesn’t matter; I learned so much about the heart and soul of Ashtanga, about its ability to give us the tools we need to live correctly if not well, and has given me the desire to inspire others. This, for me, is and should be the meaning of a yoga teacher training.
Posted by Bobbie