As a new teaching year starts, it's a good time to evaluate where I'm at as a teacher, where I could do better, how my students are faring on and off the mat, and how best I can serve them.
It is perhaps the greatest blessing as a yoga teacher to have regular, long-term students, and I am blessed with several. Being able to observe a human being at close range over the course of years - to see how their body changes with their practice and their life, sometimes for good and sometimes bad - is a rare privilege. If I did not have these students - if I was only ever seeing people in a peripatetic fashion - I don't think I'd have progressed much as a teacher. Coming up with new directions and new ways to play for these students is a powerful motivator for me to keep exploring in my own practice, while still allowing the teaching to arise organically.
A combination of things has led me to return to some low-key study, made possible by Shiva Rea's Living Yoga Sadhana online course. I have done some in-person study with Shiva and this 'distance learning' program is ideal for those who cannot see her on a regular basis. I have no idea what will come out of this teaching, but Shiva never fails to inspire. I've also been led to Sally Kempton, aka Swami Durgananda, who is a meditation teacher of profound gifts - and a wonderful voice. So while the people in my class are used to practising meditation, we may be doing even more this year - or, perhaps, just practising differently.
I can't know what will come up for my students or for me over the course of this year; every class is different, and it is so important to be open to what is going on in the room each time. I learnt long ago that making strict class plans is a bad idea. Being able to step into the flow - embracing the idea that change is the only constant, with all the fear and wonder that brings - is my greatest challenge and joy as a teacher. It is my students who have made it possible for me to do it - without them I would have no reason to even want to explore change, to not have plans, to think about what else may be out there that will be interesting to us all.
For tonight's class I have a theme and a loose plan, but I know that it could all change if just one person walks in feeling sick, or with an injury. I just won't know until they all turn up. And that's really exciting. So for that excitement, to those people who turn up I can only offer bottomless gratitude. My own teacher put me on the path - now you keep me on it.
- Sophie Hamley