Bear with me. Like your yoga practice, this story is going some where.
When I was in college, I took a beginner swim class. At the end, my teacher told me I could swim, passed me and gave me an “A”. Summer came around and I was at the pool with my husband, an ex marine and expert swimmer. I was ecstatic about showing him my new skills. I get in the water. Show him what I can do and he says,
Husband: Sweetie, you can’t swim.
Me: Yes, I can. My teacher said I could. I passed the class. He moved me on.
Husband: Sweetie, if I pushed you off a boat, in the middle of the ocean, you would die.
Me: MY TEACHER SAID I COULD SWIM. YOU ARE WRONG. I PASSED THE CLASS. I CAN SWIM.
Next semester roles around and I sign up for intermediate swim class with my teacher. Within the first 15 minutes, it is apparent that the other students could do things that I couldn’t. However, in my mind, I could swim. They were just advanced. They were in the wrong class. My teacher would help me. I called him over, he says,
Teacher: I am sorry. I was wrong for passing you. I wanted to reward you for your hard work.
Me: You said I passed. You said I could swim.
Teacher: I thought you would go home and practice. I thought you would get better.
Me: YOU DIDN’T SAY GO HOME AND PRACTICE. YOU SAID I COULD SWIM. YOU PASSED ME.
You get where I am going here? Fast forward to my Ashtanga practice.
Teacher: Stop there.
Me: My other teacher passed me. He said I could do the next pose/series. He said I could do the pose.
Teacher: You can’t bind/balance/jump/touch ABC body part. This pose is designed to do ABC and prepare you for DEF and possibly enlightenment.
Me: My teacher said I was doing the pose. He passed me.
Or in the case of Sharath,
Sharath: Hmmmm, lower, lower, lower, hmmmm. (No explanation or other poses given).
I didn’t say anything back, I just went home and bitched to my friends.
Fast forward to teacher trainings all over the world.
Teacher Trainee: How was the class, audition, workshop?
Studio/Mentor/Random student/teacher giving feedback: You can’t teach.
Teacher Trainee: I can too teach. My teacher passed me. I have 200 hours.
Studio/Mentor/Random student/teacher giving feedback: Your sequence, assists, cuing, instruction, knowledge of the body is non existent.
Teacher Trainee: I PASSED THE TEACHER TRAINING. I CAN TEACH. YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. The Yoga Alliance just give me my school status. I will be teaching other teachers soon. (True story guys).
Before I continue, there are definitely situations where students benefit from getting the next pose even when they cannot do the the one that comes before. However, that reason should not be because, It was their birthday. True story.
I was super pissed off when, after 3 or 4 years of doing Ashtanga, I found out that the transition into Bujha Pidasana was to jump right into it and my teacher only taught me the squat and wiggle. I thought that was the right transition. I thought to myself, “I want to be strong. Why didn’t she teach me that? Why didn’t she teach me to be strong?” I taught myself how to grab my heels in Kapo, using a Kino video, no less. It literally took one session of me doing it over and over again….at home… in the spare bedroom. That is how close I was. I didn’t even need an assist. But yet, I had been given all of Second Series and I was just rolling through it.
When I was in Mysore, Sharath dinged me on several transitions. At first, I was in my feelings. But when I had time to process my thoughts, I was thrilled that he thought I was strong enough to do them correctly.
Listen, I am not going to front. I still get in my feelings when I am stopped and made to work on stuff. If you see me next week, and ask me to work on something, I might give you the side eye. My mind is not stilled. I have not found Samadhi. This article was written based on 17 years of hindsight. Trust me. When I was being given poses, I felt like I was a rock star. I felt like I had earned them all. It wasn’t until years after those whirlwind pose giveaways that I stopped and thought, “what am I doing here? My back is in the same state it was 5 years ago. My Kapo has not progressed. I am still no closer to jumping into Bujha. Is there something that I missed?” And the answer is always, “yes”. There is always something I missed and I always have to stop, usually on my own, and work on the element of the pose that I am missing. So like, I can work on the pose now or 5 years from now. That is really the choice I was being given. My ego says, “5 years from now so I can tell people I do Third Series.” My ego says, “You are getting old. Don’t you want to get to the fun poses while you still can?” My common sense though, which I don’t always use, says, do it now, girl, do it now.
P.S. I still cannot swim and my poor husband did have to save me from drowning. Learn from my mistakes, guys.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.