Yoga teachers as rising rock stars

Photo: yoga class at Thrive Yoga
A wide-legged forward fold or Prasarita Padottanasana led by Suan Bowen

Each morning at Thrive Yoga‘s yoga teacher training (YTT)  participants join a 90-minute yoga practice led by the owner Susan Bowen or two other teachers, Sarah Wimsatt or Krista Block. Except for a few yin session that Susan gave as a change of pace, the classes have tested my yoga:  I’ve come out of the practice dripping in sweat, buzzing from the intense rinse cycle that my brain has been put through and feeling as if I had had an out-of-body experience. Just when I think I can’t go any deeper, I am led into new territory.

The physical practice is the number one reason I decided on YTT — I wanted to renew my hatha practice, increase my stamina, strength and flexibility, deepen my understanding of fundamentals and get back into my yoga groove that I lost when my parents died two and a half years ago.

Yoga teachers that challenge us

Photo: woman in yoga inversion pose, with laptop
Krista bring a touch of humor, as well as skill, to her practice.
Photo credit: Krista Block’s personal site

Sarah and Krista are remarkable teachers with different teaching styles but they both illustrate a single type of yoga teacher: athletically gifted, joyously physical, spontaneous and room aware (they feed off their students’ vibs as well as their own inspiration). Their asana sequences and vinyasa flow naturally. It’s what Susan calls the “X-Factor.”

After each session (when we’ve recovered from the exertion), the YTT group writes down their sequences, step by step, and there is a remarkable balance  in asana and counterpose, warm-up and cool-off, a juxtaposition of poses that build on top of each other.  At the end, I ask myself how did I get to here (here being a couple steps deeper in a pose than I’ve been before).

Neither teacher script out their sequences beforehand as an intellectual exercise. They may have a theme or a peak pose that they’re aiming for, but they can go out the window if the students are not following. Their sequencing flows corporeally as a natural extension of  their own practice.

Krista has been practicing yoga since she was a teenager, and is trained in the Jivamukti tradition of Sharon Gannon and David Life. Her style is “classical,” but still playful and buoyant (I guess that’s why she loves inversions). As we’re grunting to get into flying crow (or something close to it), she’s gleefully saying “Aren’t we having fun!” and meaning it. As a drawback, she can let the pace get out of hand.  She’s also tapped into Anusara and Ashtanga for inspiration.   You can see  video of her practice on Vimeo. In adddition to Thrive twice a week, she teaches at Buddha B Yoga Center and Flow Yoga Center.

Sarah brings a altheletism to her yoga practice Photo credit: Opus Yoga Kentlands
Sarah brings an altheletism to her yoga practice.
Photo credit: Opus Yoga Kentlands

Sarah began taking yoga seriously later in life than Krista, but the science and art of yoga has come to be just as important for her. In terms of style, she’s eclectic, counter-intuitive, and not stuck in any school.  She began her formal studies in the Kashi ashram in Atlanta, and then added on Anusara, Thai yoga massage therapy and other healing disciplines. She’s planning to go back to university to study Kinesiology at Maryland. In addition to teaching at Thrive four or five times a week, she also has classes at Opus Yoga Kentlands and Fitness First (Rockville and Silver Spring).

I am pretty sure that these two teachers are bound for bigger audiences and enterprises in the yoga world. My classmates and I were lucky to have them as guides at this stage of both their and our development: we’re all just beginning on the path.

Why do I mention these two teachers, aside from complimenting them on their challenging classes?

This kind of yoga teacher probably needs YTT the least of any category because yoga comes to them almost as second nature. They are like a jazz player that, when given the chords, rhythm and a hint of melody, can improvise, riff after riff.   Most students in a 200-hour YTT program would be in awe of them, but they would be ill-advised  to imitate their styles.

First, yoga teachers are supposed to be authentic and teach what comes from their own body and heart — it’s hard to teach poses that are beyond a teacher’s grasp. Second, teaching should be rooted in personal experience, drawing on the unique attributes of each teacher, and address the particular needs of their students within the framework of their level.

Krista and Sarah’s example does not mean that other styles of teaching are less valuable. As Susan herself says, a teacher may have blind spots (Krista and Sarah may never have had problems opening their shoulders or hips) that keep them from identifying the particular obstacles facing a yoga novice or a student with special needs. That’s where YTT comes in: create the right learning environment in which students who are not preternaturally endowed can acquire a fundamental understanding of yoga and experiment with acquiring a unique voice that captures their experience on the mat and transmits it to diverse levels of yoga instruction.

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