From the moment I first signed up for my yoga teacher training, I warned my mother that she would be among my first students. Many of my friends have taken yoga classes or are regular practitioners. I knew teaching them would provide a particular challenge, one I may experience often as I eventually begin to teach All Levels Vinyasa classes. On the flip side, my mother would provide a completely different challenge. She hasn’t been as physically active lately, has achy knees, and is basically new to yoga. I knew teaching her would really help me become a better teacher to beginners and, really, to everyone. After the first session, I already had a list of five things I had learned:
1. The reminder to breathe is very important.
From the moment we stepped on our mats, my mother kept forgetting to breathe. Even as I said inhale and exhale, she would hold her breath and grit her teeth. I had to remind her at every turn to breathe. I know I have issues with breathing in some poses as well, but it has been awhile since I needed constant reminders. Sometimes my breath goes on autopilot. It was a very important lesson for me. Yoga is so much about the breath, but it is a challenge for some no matter the pose. Yoga is a practice that reminds us how important and powerful our breath is. The reminder to breathe may be the most important cue you give a student or class. It is one that they can take with them out in the world. Remind them to breathe…and to smile.
2. Working with different bodies and people will show you different challenges.
I knew my mom would need modifications from the start. I asked her to come to hands-and-knees in order to do Cat/Cow. I asked how her knees felt. “My knees are fine, but my feet hurt, ” she said. I looked at her feet. They were in the right position. I asked for more information. Come to find out, the tops of my mom’s feet are incredibly tight and hurt when laying flat on the ground, even with little to no pressure on them. I had no idea that this could be a concern, but it makes sense. I spend a lot of time sitting on my knees, with my feet flat. My mother does not. I immediately had to run through possible modifications and poses to do that would help stretch that area, but not aggravate it. Her body provided me with a challenge I never thought about. Now, I will be ready to help another student who walks in with a similar issue.
3. A little yoga goes a long way.
We were only on the mat for 10 to 15 minutes. In that time, we figured out what parts of my mother’s body need the most stretching and strengthening. We figured out which poses hurt in a good way and which poses hurt in a bad way. I am now armed with specifics so that I can really come up with a sequence to help and benefit my mother (and hopefully many others). When we finished, my mother had awakened dormant muscles. Her core, her arms, her legs, and her feet were all “talking to her”. They were all alive and getting the message that they needed to shape up. We’ll build up to longer periods of time, but starting here will allow us to get moving without overdoing it.
4. Getting someone on the mat is both the hardest and easiest thing to do.
My mother has been both excited and resistant to practicing yoga. She has been scared because her body is not in the shape it once was and had a yearning to start yoga after watching me practice. I completely understood her fear, but was also completely committed to getting her on the mat. When I was serious about making this a reality, I made it clear. A mat was bought. A time was set. I showed up ready to go despite her protests. I was serious and so she became serious. Still, I’ve been trying to get her to practice for years. So it was hard, but easy once we were both serious about it. Once on the mat, she tried everything. She felt her muscles working and saw how a little goes a long way. Of course, not everyone has a great experience on the mat the first time, but getting him or her there the first time is half the battle.
5. Teaching is great and scary.
I didn’t realize that I knew as much about yoga or the body until I was helping my mother on the mat. Now more than halfway through my 200hr yoga teacher training intensive, I am preparing for the final weeks of learning and teaching practice. I’ve been scared that I don’t know much at all and that teaching is much further away than I thought. It is possible that that is the case, but working with my mother showed me that I will be ready to teach and will become better as time goes along. It also showed me how wonderful it can be to help someone on the mat. I can’t wait to teach her, and many others, again.