Once upon a time, a fellow yoga teacher and friend told me of a brief and almost disparaging conversation she had with a yoga teacher who was honored with a coveted spot on the teaching schedule at a New York City Yoga Studio. Here is how the conversation transpired:
Friend: "Congratulations!! I heard that you were offered a few classes at (insert studio name here)
Yoga teacher: "Thanks! It isn't a big deal. It's only basics"
Ok, the conversation was epigrammatic and brief, but personally, the response "It's only basics" left me utterly speechless and slightly aggrieved that there are yoga preceptors in positions of 'offering' who marginalize a "Basic" Yoga class to something insignificant. I often times think back to this particular conversation each time I take a brilliantly sequenced Basics class because being able to teach and introduce yoga to an absolute beginner defines, to me, a remarkable and sensational teacher. There is a fundamental element of poise and power that a Basics teacher has when he/she steps into a room full of newcomers to the yoga practice. I never thought I would ever say this in any realistic application, but like Peter Parker's Uncle's articulation in Spiderman, "With great power comes great responsibility".
What defines a remarkable teacher, in my personal opinion, is his/her ability to unleash the almost innate desire in all of us to yearn for a yoga practice that encourages us to catalyze a lifestyle that is balanced, healthful, and overall, less distressed - and regardless of the student's intention in stepping foot into his/her first yoga class, the teacher must realize that the novice is inevitably asking for guidance to safely get them to a place where they can contemplate yoga as their h-OHM-e base.
My friend also said it best - a beginner to the yoga practice is synonymous with a foreigner visiting New York City for the first time. The visitor does not speak the language, and has picked you out of a crowd of millions of New Yorkers to ask you for the best way to get to Times Square from their present location.
To me, I learned that there are a few ways to answer the foreigner.
One can say:
(1) "Take the 2 train until you get to Times Square"
(2) "Hop in a cab and tell the cab driver, 'I want to go to Times Square' "
(3) "You need to walk north, which is straight ahead, until you reach 18th street and 7th avenue. From there, locate the 1 train and make sure you enter the 'Uptown and the Bronx' entryway. If you have a metro card, swipe your card at the turnstile. If you do not have a metro card, you need to go to the kiosk and purchase a ticket for entry. Once that happens, you will wait for the uptown train and take it 4 stops until you've reached 42nd street. Exit out the train and follow any 'exit' sign which will bring you out to Times Square"
I WILL UNCEASINGLY gravitate towards a teacher who would rejoin with the awareness, tone, and unequivocal "know how" demonstrated in Option 3.
Here is a little bit of advice, my friends and fellow yogis…
In a basics class where the answers to your questions are like option 1, the teacher unfortunately, is probably not teaching a fundamental/foundational class. He/she is calling out shapes and not directing you into the posture safely.
In a basics class where the answers to your questions are like option 2, the teacher has given you the easy way out and will get you to Times Square, but you've barely learned anything about the journey. You will end up paying all this money on cab fare without understanding the subway system or the city for that matter.
In a basics class where the answers to your questions are like option 3, you may be overwhelmed with all the information at first, and chances are, you would be more partial to an answer like option 2, but if you allow the direction and clear instruction, eventually, you will find yourself in a place where you are equipped to explore the city and all it has to offer. You will also become self sufficient and know how to get to any destination safely and on time!!
I've learned so much from my friend who shared that story with me. It allowed me to summarize my love of basics in the following way:
- As a teacher, I am constantly inspired by anyone who can creatively put together a yoga class that is thought provoking, allowing the student to walk away feeling proud of what was ultimately executed and most importantly, leaving wanting more.
- As a teacher, I also have to tell myself when I teach to a room full of beginners, "Every shape is new so tell them how to get to Times Square", so I try not to take for granted the complexities of any shape. For example, downward facing dog, in my opinion, is HARD!!!. It can take years of practice to be able to say,"Damn, down dog feels good!"
- Most importantly, as a student, and for anyone looking for a great basics teacher, seek out the teachers who can find inspiration with every shape in the practice. Be cautious of anyone who ever utters the words, "it's just basics"
In the years I have practiced yoga, my body and mind still necessitate a basics class once a week, and I lionize that by exploring the city, in my own way, to find a basic class that gives me better insight into what the mainstream of people desperately wanting to get into yoga need so they can continue to come back to ask for more.
To be perfectly honest, I do not take a basics class weekly to help me become a better teacher. I take it once a week to remind me of how powerful a basics class is to make me FEEL empowered in my own personal practice. What I end up offering my students becomes, in a way, a side effect from my empowerment.
Finally, the art of basics will always serve as a unceasing reminder that inspiration has no limits, and if we allow ourselves to fuel the yen or desire and seek out the infinite wisdom that yoga supplies, then we will always be capable of getting to the proverbial "Times Square" , no matter where we are, who we are with, or how long we've been apart from New York City. We will always find the right portage to get us to the destination that we can be contented in calling h-OHM-e.