The revolutionary joy of teaching & learning

This past weekend, as part of my yoga teacher training program, I had an experience which powerfully reminded me what it is to be a teacher, and what it is to be a student. 

Cory Bryant was the guest teacher for the weekend, and I felt an immediate connection with his teaching. His knowledge of yogic texts, his interest in Buddhism, his directness and humor all resonated with me. In his presence, I felt attentive and joyful. I sat bolt upright on my cushion, taking notes, listening, completely tuned in to what he was saying. 

There are many mystical ideas floating around, about teachers and students. In ancient Buddhist texts, there are descriptions of students attaining full enlightenment—as if struck by lightning—simply by hearing the Buddha speak certain words. There is the concept of the "root teacher." People stumble on a meditation teacher and feel a deep, intuitive voice say: This is my teacher! They feel as if the teacher is speaking directly to them; the words land in a way that they haven't landed before. Worlds of knowledge and possibility begin to open up. 

It's important to point out here that this isn't about guru worship, nor is this phenomenon "about" the teacher per se. Rather, in these moments of awakening, the teacher—thanks to her/his years of dedicated study and personal practice— becomes a channel for universal truth. The student, through openmindedness, respect, and sincere effort, can receive what is being offered. (If you've ever taught in any discipline, you can feel this difference. When a student is truly listening, trying things with an open mind, our knowledge flows from us easily and intuitively. We are a "better teacher" when the student is ready to learn.)

What I realize after our weekend with Cory is that it is deeply nourishing to the spirit to be well-taught. Teaching anything is an act of generosity and caring. When Cory helped me personally with the alignment of a pose, or responded to a question I asked, it felt so amazing! I felt like a child in one of my group classes, raising her hand and hoping to be called on. My heart was calling out, Help me grow! I could see this sincerity and excitement on the faces of my fellow trainees, too. Through this experience, I could see clearly that I really just want to learn. Therefore, to receive individual attention from the teacher, and to see my practice grow as a result, is tremendously exciting.

Simply put: the student wants help. When the teacher has the patience, knowledge, desire, and sensitivity to help, all is well. I had this relationship with my violin teacher, Olga Kaler, at DePaul. Her knowledge was so deep, and her ability to share it with me so skillful, that my playing was really transformed.

From my experience in yoga this weekend, I can see that the teacher needs a teacher, too. Cory is constantly learning, regularly going to see his Ashtanga teachers in different parts of the country. He is being nurtured by his teachers, and in turn, he can nurture his students.

Although I am not teaching yoga at the moment, I am teaching violin five days a week. As you can imagine, what I experienced this weekend immediately changed how I approached my group of four violin students on Monday. I was more strict, but also more kind. I gave each of them my individual attention, breaking things down for them and making it clear what skills they needed to gain next. Sometimes, I have behavior problems with this group. Yesterday, I had almost none. There was a clear atmosphere of serious learning, and I know that the tone I set for them had made a huge difference. Believing in my students, challenging them, and giving them the tools to grow can be an act of generosity, and can demonstrate my respect for them as humans. 

You guys ... I'm so excited. <3