The best class I ever taught…nobody came

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Originally posted on ceibhfhion.blogspot.com

First floor studio at In The Moment

“The best class I ever taught, nobody came” Yogi Bhajan

For the first time ever last weekend I had to cancel one of my seasonal yoga workshops because nobody booked to come. Of course, I have had times where nobody turned up for a class, or when very few people turned up for a class, but my seasonal workshops have always been very popular. 

And herein lies my difficulty. I realise that I am – whether I like it or not – partly in  a popularity contest.  Of course this is not the whole story. Many factors conspire to fill or empty classes, and the popularity or otherwise of the teacher is just one small part of that equation. Much of my work and reflective practice as a teacher over the years has been in learning to let go of this desire and expectation. Accepting that whoever turns up is there because they are up for exploring what I have to offer. 

But, clearly, there are reasons why some people’s classes are full whilst others struggle to get by with 3 or 5 students. And in my experience of mentoring newer yoga teachers, it is often those who have more depth to offer who are struggling in this way. Maybe it’s because, with greater sensitivity, comes greater humility and the effort to “sell” oneself in the yoga marketplace (because – sadly –  that’s what it has become) doesn’t come easily or naturally. I see teachers struggling with their teaching identity, burdened with the notion that they have to adapt what they teach, and how they teach,  in order to  appeal to the “market.”

In marketing, this is the accepted norm, and in a consumerist world, necessary. Adapt and change the product in order to move with the times, to capture new markets, to appeal to a new generation of consumers. 

But in yoga? 

From me – a big resounding “NO!”

Despite my best efforts in marketing, I have never had packed out classes the way some yoga teachers do. This is fine.  It’s actually the way I like to teach. But, I also confess that I have those days when I have a bubbling up of resentment for the packed hot yoga classes across town, or the knowledge that one of my students isn’t coming to class because they have defected to someone else’s. But when I take time to really tune in to the reality of what’s going on, I reach a deeper sense of what is at play. 

I acknowledge that it has a lot to do with how I teach. Not everyone is up for experiencing the kind of deeply embodied and mindful practice that I offer. I teach the kind of yoga that brings you face to face with yourself. No escape. To me, this IS yoga. Yoga is not an escape from reality, or a way of anaesthetising the mind. Yoga brings us into awareness of WHO WE REALLY ARE. And whilst I offer this in a gentle, loving and safely held way, I am up front about this and  I acknowledge that  the very thought of even beginning this conversation is enough to put people off.

Most yoga classes offered nowadays seem to be what a fellow teacher describes as “yogacise.” A stripped down version of what  yogis understand yoga to be. What they are offering is yoga-asana, the postural aspect of Hatha Yoga and – in many cases – nothing else. Some yogis  debate whether it is even asana or if it’s actually just some glorified version of callisthenics.  If you’re lucky you might get a cursory “Namaste” at the end of class (my aversion to the term has some roots in this disingenuous nod to the tradition) In terms of exploring the other aspects of the practice – if you are even aware that they exist – you need to look elsewhere. For those of us offering the “elsewhere”, it can be really, really difficult to raise your voice loud enough to be found. 

And even then, it can feel like shouting into the void. The truth is Yoga has become a product. As with any product it is subject to  fads and fashions and the whims of the market, to the power of celebrity endorsement, to the desires of the consumer. And whilst there are many yogis and teachers who work to counter this phenomenon, it is like standing in the path of a juggernaut. We can continue to hold the depth and truth of the practice, but we are swimming in this veritable ocean of consumerism that is, relentlessly and  undeniably changing the very definition of Yoga.

The truth, for me, is that I can’t compete with this. And I won’t. Yes, it is difficult when I rely on teaching classes and workshops for my income but I am blessed with other skills and strands to my practice that serve to keep the wolf from the door. I could, as was  (helpfully) suggested by another fellow teacher the other day, give up teaching yoga, go back to simply practising yoga, and get a job to earn money. As if I don’t already have a job! I confess it more that crossed my mind. I was ready to give up teaching. Feeling the juggernaut bearing down on me and realising that, in that moment, I simply didn’t have the strength to compete any more, I was a hair’s breadth from giving it up and doing anything, anything else. 

No, I am not going to compete any more. But I am not giving up. I will be there, in the yoga room, holding space for anyone who is curious, interested, hopeful, open-hearted enough to join me. 

Even if nobody turns up. 

Readings and Mantras from My Healing Space 5 Feb

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Our mantra was

OM Gam Ganapataye Namah

OM and salutations to Ganapati (Lord Ganesha, remover of obstacles)

Our reading was from Courtney A Walsh

” Dear Human: You’ve got it all wrong. You didn’t come here to master unconditional love. That is where you came from and where you’ll return. You came here to learn personal love. Universal love. Messy love. Sweaty love. Crazy love. Broken love. Whole love. Infused with divinity. Lived through the grace of stumbling. Demonstrated through the beauty of… messing up. Often. You didn’t come here to be perfect. You already are. You came here to be gorgeously human. Flawed and fabulous. And the to rise again into remembering. But unconditional love? Stop telling that story. Love, in truth, doesn’t need ANY other adjectives. It doesn’t require modifiers. It doesn’t require the condition of perfection. It only asks that you show up. And do your best. That you stay present and feel fully. That you shine and fly and laugh and cry and hurt and heal and fall and get back up and play and work and live and die as YOU. It’s enough. It’s Plenty.

A Perfect Day

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On Saturday 1st of February, 14 women joined me in the space at In the Moment for “My Perfect Year – 2014″ - a dreaming and planning workshop timed to coincide with the season of Imbolc. We had a beautiful day of dreaming things into being. We explored our Sacred Words, we danced, we created dream boards, we meditated and journeyed and we heard some inspiration words and poetry. Look out for more dreaming and planning workshops at Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain.

We began with these words from Abraham Hicks Daily Quotes on 31 January. Very timely.

“Action that is inspired from aligned thought is joyful action. Action that is offered from a place of contridicted thought is hard work that is not satisfying and does not yield good results. When you really feel like jumping into action, that is a clear sign that your vibration is pure and you are not offering contridicting thoughts to your own desire. When you are having a hard time making yourself do something, or when the action you offer does not produce the results you are seeking, it is always because you are offering thoughts in opposition to your desire.”

Here are our colourful dream boards displayed together

 And here are some of the resources I shared

poems and readings from My Perfect Year 2014

Templates_Goal_Mapping

21 things – My Perfect Year 2014

key-zen-habits-poster – from Leonie Dawson

howtobeagoddess – from Leonie Dawson 

 

 

Mantras & Prayers from “My Healing Space”

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I’ve had a request for the mantra and prayer I used at the “My Healing Space” workshop on Wednesday, and it seems like a good idea to publish them here for everyone. I will do the same each month.

The Mantra - from the Upanishads

ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः
Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih

Meaning:
1: Om, Lead us from Unreality (of Transitory Existence) to the Reality (of the Eternal Self),
2: Lead us from the Darkness (of Ignorance) to the Light (of Spiritual Knowledge),
3: Lead us from the Fear of Death to the Knowledge of Immortality.
4: Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

The Zen Prayer - from “Zen Prayers for repairing your life” by Tai Sheridan 

“For Now”

I open myself

to being alert

in the present moment

and to being

completely alive

and responsive

to whatever happens

 

I am ready

to stop avoiding

my experiences

and internal states

of thought emotion

sensation and intuition

as they occur

 

I am ready

to slow down

so that I can

be centered

within myself

and live close

to the bone

 

I am ready

to give up

acting as if

past memory

and future wishes

are a satisfying substitute

for right now

 

I open myself

to being alert

in the present moment

and to being

completely alive

and responsive

to whatever happens

 

 

Dreaming & Planning

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This post also appears at Ceibhfhion.blogspot.com

I often blog at this time of year on the theme of – well – New Year and the expectations that the turn of the year brings. Last Year’s blog was all about A Different Resolution, and our tendency to brand our year as “good” or “bad”.

The pressures, the plans, the resolutions: all often broken quickly and guiltily within a few days of pinning the new calendar to the wall. I have heard that gyms cash in on the flurry of New Year get fit/lose weight resolutions, overselling memberships in the sure knowledge that the biggest majority of people who sign up will quickly lose enthusiasm or motivation before January is out.

For me, January is the time to Dream and Plan.

The darkest (and supposedly most depressing) month of the year is possibly not the best time for doing new things. It does not lend itself easily to the energy required to make lasting changes (although of course it’s not impossible!)  I like December and January to be my Dreaming and Planning time. and then as we approach the end of the month and the season of Imbolc, and the energy makes a gentle shift, then things can start to move into action.

This year, I have been making this a more formal exercise, using  The 2014 Create Your Amazing Year Workbook. And although it is very unlike me to promote products, this little book has made an enormous difference to how I feel able to manifest my dreams.

Because of how powerful this has been for me, I also made the decision to offer a workshop – My Perfect Year 2014 –  on the theme of Dreaming and Planning to coincide with the season of Imbolc.  I invite you to join me to share in some of the magic.

Putting up the Closed Sign

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image by Nick Papakyriazis on flickr.com

I just cancelled a class. The reason: I am struggling to speak.  I am suffering from the  long lasting  after –effects of a cold. I did an hour long chanting session with a fellow teacher yesterday and I think I might have breathing through my mouth last night when I was sleeping ( no NOT snoring!) And then I chatted and laughed my way through an  hour long mentoring session with a student this morning and my voice was really struggling.

All of this seems to have resulted in me losing my voice. (Funny expression that isn’t it? It’s still there, it’s just not very effective)

And so I had a choice.

  1. Show up to class, suck lozenges and sip water and croak my way through, or
  2. Take time off to rest and gargle before teaching class this evening?

My impulse was to turn up. To be there, as I always am, despite how few students show up. (This is a lunchtime class that isn’t very well attended) This is definitely part of what I consider to be my ethos: integrity, consistency and reliability.  But as I walked to the studio this morning, feeling that burning discomfort in my throat I reflected on just exactly who I was serving with this intention. Not myself – as with all teachers and performers – my voice is a precious instrument. And my students? Do they not deserve to have me fully present – voice and all?

I reflected on what I would advise my students and therapy clients if they asked for advice on this situation.

And my answer would  invariably be: rest.

As a teacher, is it  enough for me to give out advice that I do not feel able to also take for myself? When students come to class with an infection or an injury – following that  culturally conditioned impulse to push on and through – then, depending on the circumstances,  my advice is often to go home and rest. Listen to what your body is telling you it needs. You have permission. As a teacher, I realise that it is important for me also to reflect the value of not pushing. If I turn up to class unable to speak, what message am I reinforcing?

Take my advice –  I’m not using it?

We live in a culture of overwork. Despite what publications like our old favourite the Daily Mail might have us believe, we are far from work-shy, quite the opposite. Often justified as a healthy “work ethic” , we work longer hours, take fewer holidays and fewer sick days than many of our European colleagues. No wonder there are so many people experiencing the effects of chronic fatigue. Pushing oneself to the point of illness cannot in anyone’s book be considered healthy.  Those in employment may feel pushed to work long hours for fear of losing their jobs, and self-employed people like myself may feel that they simply don’t have a choice, because there is nobody else to do it. The truth is, despite how indispensible we imagine we are, things can and do survive and thrive perfectly well in our absence . They really do!

I’m side tracking. I suppose what I am getting at is that this work ethic, this drive to “push through” fatigue, illness, injury and pain also manifests outside of the working environment. Even on the yoga mat. I’ve seen it countless times when students show up at class thinking that somehow they are doing a good thing by making themselves go to Yoga. Because Yoga is good for you, right?

I have had students arrive at class with the flu, in the vomity early stages of pregnancy, with fractures (yup), with a migraine, even with a nose bleed and always, I think ( and often say it too) you should really GO HOME ( via  a doctor if appropriate)

(I should say – because it is my area of specialism –  that in the case of chronic conditions, then it’s a bit different.  Happy to discuss.)

In a recent workshop with my friend and mentor Lorna Penney, we were doing some really deep work and I realised maybe half way through the day that I might not have the necessary emotional resources to teach class that evening. I think I actually said something like “I feel like I never want to teach another yoga class!”  – It’s Okay I changed my mind ;-)

What Lorna offered was massively empowering and – at risk of sounding over-dramatic – life changing in its simplicity. She offered to put a closed sign on the studio door and if necessary wait for the students to arrive and tell them that I wasn’t going to be teaching that evening. As it turns out I didn’t take her up on her offer because enough processing was done during the remainder of the workshop to bring me out of my funk, but at that moment, it gave me the sense of space that I needed.  If I  COULDN’T teach, then I didn’t have to – simple.

What came after that was an opportunity to reflect on when it is appropriate to put my own closed sign on the door.  It doesn’t happen very often, but I realise that if I am to be of service to my students and therapy clients, then it is better that I work when my physical, emotional and psychic resources are not depleted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Precious Moment

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I found this blog post from a couple of years ago. I still often refer to “bathing a Baby Buddha” when I am talking about mindfulness. As we move into Autumn,  it seems apt to repost…

I have found myself being surprised by the date. October already? It’s a common theme and topic of conversation, how quickly the months seem to fly by. We are intrinsically linked to the flow of the seasons and still gauge the passing of time by seasonal milestones. The passing of time can also feel more quickly paced at certain times than at others. Time can reflect achievements, goals and challenges, deadlines missed and tasks yet undone and we often dwell on the past or constantly plan or worry about the future..

The practice of Yoga allows us to be more present in the moment – something which is nowadays often called Mindfulness. More important than the ticking by of seconds, hours and weeks, is what is occurring RIGHT NOW. Indeed, the only thing we can be absolutely certain of is what is happening right now. More than that, it’s about developing awareness, focusing in and being mindful of what is occurring, with our breath, in our bodies, in our minds. Off the mat, it is about being fully present in our lives. It may not be possible all of the time, but the awareness that comes from practising yoga can give more meaning and depth to our experience of each moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh  comments beautifully about this in the following verse about Washing the Dishes:

Washing the dishes

is like bathing a baby Buddha.

The profane is the sacred.

Everyday mind is Buddha’s mind.

“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur to us only when we are not doing them. Once we are standing in front of the sink with our sleeves rolled up and our hands in warm water, it is really not bad at all… Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane. It may take a bit longer to do the dishes, but we can live fully, happily, in every moment…If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert and a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of doing these things joyfully. With the cup in my hands, I will be thinking about what to do next, and the fragrance and the flavourof the tea, together with the pleasure of drinking it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment. The time of dishwashing is as important as the time of meditation. That is why the everyday mind is called the Buddha’s mind.” THICH NHAT HANH

Money Talk

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 I have decided to edit and repost this entry (originally published in March last year)  because it feels very relevant to discussions that I have been having lately with some yoga colleagues.

Perhaps a generalisation, but Yoga teachers really don’t like talking about money,  often finding it difficult to ask for the going rate for their work or to reconcile earning a living from what is – after all – supposed to be a spiritual practice (isn’t it?).  Because of my artsy background and from conversations with other professionals, I am aware that the same is also true of artists, musicians, actors, dancers, photographers, film makers and all those whose talent has driven them outside the mainstream world of work. Some of the most talented and brilliant people I know earn very little from their chosen profession, requiring to top up with income from a “proper” job. ( I do use this term ironically!)

So why is it so hard? Well, for yoga teachers, it is because we are, on the whole, motivated by the desire to teach, to help people and to share the wisdom that we have benefited from as practitioners. Many of us also adhere to a set of principles, one of which translates as “non-grasping” and there is., perhaps,  an underlying belief that spiritual teaching should be freely given.  Truth is, most of us paid for our yoga training, and it wasn’t cheap!

“aparigraha sthairye janma kathanta sambodhah – When one becomes selfless and ceases to take more than one needs, one obtains knowledge of why one was born”  – Patanjali 2:39

But it’s more complex than that. It is also often the case that people choosing to train and then work as yoga teachers are often holding down a full time job at the same time. Most teachers do another job as well as teach yoga, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford to eat. It is a rare opportunity to be able to teach yoga full time. So those who can afford to teach yoga, either have a job which guarantees their rent is paid, or ( dare I say it) they have a partner who can support them while they pursue their yoga career. So, I suppose, for some, there is no real imperative to earn an actual living from teaching. And this sets a precedent.

I wonder if it is easier to practice – or preach- Aparigraha, when you personally don’t need to worry about the electricity bill? Hmmm – There is a whole other essay in the demographics of this scenario – and the fact that only a select few can afford to take a yoga teacher training in the first place!

Nowadays, I am one of those rare creatures, I teach yoga full time. I worked full time in a job as well as teaching my yoga classes for a number of years before I made the leap, from which I have never looked back. OK, sometimes I miss the paid holidays, and the sick pay. Oh yes, and the salary! I have never worked so hard in my life, or earned so little. Flicking through magazines like Yoga Journal, one might be led to believe that Yoga teachers live like rock stars . Maybe some do, who knows? The marketing does a good job of maintaining a multi million dollar industry. In my world, the reality is a wee bit different. There is no doubt that yogis who devote themselves to teaching, are doing it for the love of it and not for the money, but we also have to eat, and pay the rent and the bills, the same as everyone else.

A  fellow teacher once pointed out to me that when she worked it out (taking into account number of students, how much they pay per class, studio rent, overheads, travel, preparation time, training costs etc.) she realised she was earning significantly less than the minimum wage. On quiet nights, when there are only 3 or 4 people in class, then it is very easy for it to actually cost the teacher to do the class. And yet, yoga teachers often find it hard to ask for the going rate for their classes. In Glasgow, this is about £8 for a 90 minute class. Private yoga lessons up the difficulty rating, asking for £30 or £40 for a private yoga lesson can be excruciating to those who only ever wanted to teach yoga from their hearts. But we will gladly hand £40 over to a chiropractor for 10 minutes of manipulation. When it comes to making a BUSINESS out of yoga, then this takes us into a whole other platform of inner and outer tensions!  You may like to read my piece about Heart Centred business on this the topic of keeping it real.

The other side of the issue is of course, how other people value the work we do. My experience as a yoga teacher and complementary therapist is that I have often been asked to offer my services “on a voluntary basis.” This is a topic about which I can become rather passionate. What this actually means is that they want me to work for nothing! Volunteering (voluntarily) for a cause close to your heart is one thing, but being asked – or indeed expected –  to do so, just because of the type of work you do… hmmm. Perhaps there is the underlying knowledge that therapists/yoga teachers etc. are doing what they do from the goodness of their hearts (which of course they are) but is it maybe also about how much people believe the work is worth?

In our culture,  goods and services have a price, everyone understands this, and whilst they might complain that a latte and a scone cost £5, or that plumbers ask for a £60 call out fee, or their dental crowns cost £700, or that their new bathroom cost £8000, most people understand that this is what stuff costs. And whilst I personally can argue about the sustainability of this system, I am in it and I need to sustain myself.  But how much should yoga cost? Nothing of course. Yoga is about self enquiry, and this has always been free. As yoga teachers, we are essentially charging for our time, our training, our knowledge. If yoga teachers don’t put a proper value on our work, then why on earth should anyone else?

Even if it doesn’t come naturally, or easily, I believe it is possible and necessary for yogis  to be able to have easy, civilised, non-grasping conversations about money. To ask for a fair price for the work that we do, and still be true to the principles of Yoga. It is all to do with how much we believe that our time and energy is  worth and how much other people value that belief.  Money is simply a form of exchange. It is how we manage the exchange of time, effort and energy in our culture. I have some other arrangements with people where I trade yoga lessons or massages for services and favours and this feels (energetically at least) wonderful. But the bottom line is that I also have to go to the supermarket to buy food, I have to travel, buy clothing, pay bills and also continue to keep myself up to date with new training and skills. I could go back to be that Vata- deranged worn out yogi that was struggling to hold down a full time job AND then I could teach yoga for nothing. OR I could offer heart and soul, and be full energetically present for my practice, my students and my clients and pay myself a living wage. If I was on of my students, I know which I would prefer.

 

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Everything Is Waiting For You

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I only recently heard this poem when I listened to David Whyte’s TEDx talk on the conversational nature of reality. The poem has been around for some time, so I am surprised I hadn’t encountered it. However, the poem really spoke to me, so here it is…

 

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone. As if life

were a progressive and cunning crime

with no witness to the tiny hidden

transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny

the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,

even you, at times, have felt the grand array;

the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding

out your solo voice You must note

the way the soap dish enables you,

or the window latch grants you freedom.

Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.

The stairs are your mentor of things

to come, the doors have always been there

to frighten you and invite you,

and the tiny speaker in the phone

is your dream-ladder to divinity.

 

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into

the conversation. The kettle is singing

even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots

have left their arrogant aloofness and

seen the good in you at last. All the birds

and creatures of the world are unutterably

themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

 

– David Whyte from Everything is Waiting for You ©2003 Many Rivers Press

Finding Your Teacher

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“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”

There is this saying you often hear in Yoga circles – actually a Buddhist saying. It has certainly been true for my yoga journey. Teachers have entered my life for what seems – in hindsight at least – a very obvious purpose.  I also acknowledge that some of these teachers haven’t even been teaching in the formal sense. Some of my teachers have been my own students, friends, children, animals and even trees! :-) some of them have actually not been very good teachers , in the technical sense. But a bad experience is often a very good learning experience.

Having said that, I am acutely aware that there are yogis only just setting out on their paths of discovery who may not know what to look for in a teacher. I am also very aware that more and more newly qualified teachers are emerging from teacher training and beginning their teaching journeys. Compared to when I started teaching ten years ago-when I pretty much knew all of the yoga teachers in Glasgow personally- there is a massive choice of classes, teachers and styles. And realistically, too much choice can be overwhelming.

There are heaps of guides on this subject too. How to choose a yoga style that suits you, how to choose a teacher, what to look for in a teacher, what qualifications to check for, etc. So instead of creating a surplus “guide” I am going to speak from an entirely personal perspective. Enjoy – Jude x

What I look for in a teacher

1. Presence. What I mean by this is not charisma or anything at all like that. What I mean is that the teacher is “present” for his or her students. That they are there. In the Space. Absolutely WITH the teaching. Also the ability to hold a safe space for the work.

2. Knowledge. I want to learn something. So I want to know that the teacher knows something of what they are teaching and more than I do. Generally, for me, this means that they have a. studied it for a reasonable length of time and b. continue to study and see this as a lifelong journey . When teaching asana ( and most Western teachers do) then  I want to know that my teacher understands bodies – very well. For me, I trust them even more if they have studied another body work system or at least really know their anatomy, physiology and bio-mechanics. So safety comes into this too.

3.  A personal practice. I want to know that my teacher does what they are teaching. Has experienced from their own personal relationship with it.

4. A real human being. I am drawn to teachers who share something of themselves and are honest about their humanity/foibles/mistakes. I also appreciate a sense of humour, a weakness for chocolate and in the case of one of my cherished teachers – a bit of a grumpy streak! basically – no bull***t!

5. Teaches from the Heart. Someone who shares from the heart of love, compassion and honesty.

6. Holds nothing back. There are no secrets or mysteries. They share what they know. All of it. With love. They are also honest about what they don’t know. I don’t want to be fobbed off with half-truths or pseudo -science.

7. Creates opportunities for growth. A teacher who is able to safely challenge boundaries, comfort zones and  physical abilities and to take his or her students into the realm of discovery of what is possible. This is the essence of Yoga.

8. Doesn’t show off.  A teacher is not there to show me what the amazing shapes they can get into or to use the time for their own practice. Just…no. It isn’t about them.

9. Communicates with ease. Seems obvious but a teacher should be good at explaining stuff. I don’t want to be confused and if I am, I want them to take the time to help me understand. Even the most esoteric elements of yoga can be opened up by someone who both understands and can communicate clearly.

10. Laughs. Often. At themselves and at the world. But not at me (unless I invite it!) :-)