by Steph Creaturo
I had a great conversation with one of our oh-so-wise students this week. She became my teacher and helped me examine a habit I didn’t even know I had when I’m in my teaching seat.
“The instruction ‘close the back of the throat’ doesn’t work for me. I can’t do it at all,” she said when we were discussing ujjay (or conqueror’s) breath.
I paused. I give that instruction in various ways all the time when teaching that particular yogic breathing technique.
We then had a great dialogue about that instruction and conqueror’s breath. We examined different approaches to it and she felt it in her body pretty quickly. It was just the instruction that didn’t click – that was actually the obstacle at hand. Hmm, I later wondered, how can I be teaching this differently? Am I stuck in a habit around this instruction set?
Instructions have expiration dates. Sarah Trelease taught me that a long time ago in one of my first teacher trainings and it’s one of the best nuggets I’ve ever learned. But, as engaging in the instruction has an expiration date, so does giving the instruction. That’s why questions are so important! We all feel things so differently in our bodies and our hearts. It’s so important to remember, as a student and as a teacher, that not all instructions work for every body and everybody.
Hearing an instruction requires a presence of being present. At that point, there’s less doing and more space to process, to filter, which is what has to happen after we hear something to truly listen to it. And that, thankfully, our teachers are indeed, everywhere at all times, to guide us to true listening when we’re ready for it. Or, as Charlotte Beck wrote so eloquently in Everyday Zen:
“Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the Guru.”