Small, white geckos are prevalent here in Nicaragua. Due to the open floor plan of most houses, they are a frequent sight running up walls into small corners or climbing beams in search of insects. Their official name is in fact the House Gecko. They leave behind them tiny piles of poop, which I have the unfortunate luck of attracting. Is that good luck, perhaps, being blessed by gecko poo bouncing off my head and slipping down the front of my shirt? No se, pero it is a source of amusement. The white geckos are an invasive species to Nicaragua – introduced at one time by ships traveling from Asia. The non-invasive species of gecko to Nicaragua is black and rarely seen. The geckos are not silent visitors. As they travel the house eating spiders and mosquitos, they make a noise that sounds like knocking on the door. On my first night in the house where I currently stay, I must have gotten out of bed four or five times to answer the door – only to find nobody there. I catch on quickly, and now listen to the knocking of the geckos combine with the chirping of the birds and the rustling of the monster-sized leaves to lull me to sleep.
In other animal news, I have the cutest co-teacher you’ve ever seen. His name is Bandito, and he’s a young black cat with a fluffy furry tail. He sneaks into my yoga classes in the evening, usually just as I’ve led the class into a balancing pose. He then makes his feline way around the room, softly rubbing up against whomever is having the most difficulty with their balance on that day. His favorite classes are the ones where we spend most of our time low on our mats. He sees this as the perfect opportunity to help himself to pets, what with all those hands laying on the floor not doing anything. During one evening class last week, I had my student down low on the mat for about 20 minutes. Bandito spent this time enthusiastically diving at my hand to pet himself, and playing mouse with my cell phone. He then decided the student in the room needed some attention, so went and stood directly underneath his chest as he prepared to enter into Ekapadarajakapotasana, King Pigeon Pose.
I’m really relishing teaching these later evening beginner classes, and not just because of Bandito! I love the inquisitive minds that beginners to yoga bring to their practice. My students have come to me asking for different ways that yoga can enrich their lives. I’ve found myself having conversations that explore the practice of pranayama, mantras, The Yoga Sutras, and meditation. As I watch my students begin to sink into their bodies, I can see their practice transforming over just a short period of time. I am seeing changes in students’ alignment as they move with less effort into poses that were challenging only one month ago and even changes in their alignment as I watch them walk through the doorway and set their mat up for a practice.
Sometimes, it’s very difficult as a teacher to gauge the efficacy of the class you’re teaching. One of the teachers who trained me to teach told me that teaching is about getting out of the way and allowing the yoga to flow through you. I’ve made this my baseline, what I strive to practice with each class I teach. It’s difficult though, when I sense that the students in front of me desire a practice different than what I’m offering. It’s difficult to find the balance of making the offering of yoga, and holding that space even though there’s a person in the front row who really just wants to flow through a bunch of chaturangas. Sometimes, it’s necessary in a class to hold asanas and sit with the breath.
When I was newer to teaching, I had a difficult time with the interplay of silence and instruction. It’s something I still find challenging from time to time, but I’m beginning to find more comfort working silence into my classes. The difficulty here lies in the fact that there is so much to say and so much to explore in each asana. Honestly, it would be simple to spend an entire class exploring only one asana, and to end that class with some of that asana still unexplored. It’s overwhelming for the students to throw all that information at them at once.
In this way, teaching yoga reminds me of my work as a canvasser. I worked canvassing on the phone and door to door for a number of years, and I was so passionate about the issues I canvassed on. I also had loads of information on these issues, having read numerous articles, watched documentaries, and had conversations with people affected by the issues. My challenge as a canvasser was to shrink all this information down into a three to five minute conversation that would convey the meat of the issue and spark enough passion in the listener that the listener would want to do something to help the issue – write a letter and/or make a contribution.
In this way, yoga really is no different. Each pose in yoga has so much depth, reaching not just into the physical body but deeper still into our emotions, chakras, and memories. Affecting our energetic and spiritual bodies and working a transformation. But will my students benefit from listening to me talk about how amazing the asanas are, or will they benefit more from simply practicing? I believe the practice speaks for itself. This instruction that comes from the practice comes over time, by repeating asanas again and again at different times of day, in different seasons, and in different states of mind and body. It is only through this repeated practice, this repeated sinking into the asana that one begins to find an opening and notice the subtle energetics shifting in their bodies and minds and chakras and breath.
As the teacher, I strive to offer the asanas with alignment instructions for safety as the primary focus. I then slip in other information about the asanas as I can, trusting now that I don’t need to give my students all of my knowledge in each class. Trusting more that students will find this knowledge without my words, by simply coming to their mats and coming to their mats and coming to their mats.
And then, a gecko ran by.