What Are We Doing When We Teach Yoga?

By Annie Moyer

Each quarter, the Sun & Moon teachers, subs, and advanced teachers-in-training gather for what we call a “Teaching Lab.” With no pre-set agenda, the informal discussion topics arise organically based on who’s in the room and what’s in the air. 

Sometimes the conversations land in the technical realm, and we analyze the skeleton, pool our anatomy resources, and unpack complex teaching cues. Other times we talk about what pulled us into yoga and what keeps us steeped there. Most recently, the theme swirled around the question of, “What is it exactly that we’re doing when we teach class?” Good question.

The catalyst for this direction of inquiry came from a teacher who had legitimate concerns about how to handle contraindications for students who arrive carrying one or many medical diagnoses in their pockets. The list of things their doctors told them they can’t or shouldn’t do can be long and frightening. Pool together each student’s assorted list in a class-full of lists, and a complicated dinner party comes to mind. One friend is gluten-free, another is vegan, the neighbors are strictly Paleo, and the kids will only eat pasta. Add in the food allergies and the diabetes, then raise the stakes until one wrong bite means risking life-and-limb and we’re down to Swiss chard and water for dinner.

What’s a yoga teacher to do? 

We are not medical doctors (though some of us actually are). We are not physical therapists (though some of us actually are). We are not psychotherapists or nutritionists or ordained ministers (though some of us actually are). We are guides, leading our students down a path we’ve traveled a little more frequently and/or for a little bit longer. Our relative experience and first-hand knowledge let us shine a brighter light forward for our fellow travelers, enable us to point out the scenery in finer detail, and endow us with the responsibility to issue fair warnings about the pitfalls and obstacles we may encounter with each step. Sitting back down to the dinner party metaphor, we create nourishing meals that appeal to a broad and diverse palate, lay out the buffet, and speak knowledgeably about each ingredient and its requisite benefits and risks. But that’s just the beginning. 

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The true teaching happens during “the meal.” We remind our guests to chew. To blow on the soup if it’s too hot. To take small bites and sample the taste of a new food before we swallow wholesale and realize it wasn’t a good choice. To linger with the flavors. To observe the early digestive process as the first hint of aroma sets the salivary glands into motion. To pause between bites for moments of gratitude for the meal, and to share a kind word or connection with the fellow guests. We are teaching how to listen with discernment to the messages of the nervous system, and how to use that discernment to break free from our over-stimulated senses and fragile egos. We are teaching awareness of exactly what’s happening in small increments of time, and recognizing that what’s happening inside of us is in every way related to what’s happening around us and inside of everyone else.

There’s a lot of freeze-dried, pre-packaged, factory-processed, fast-food yoga “out there.” In here at Sun & Moon, we’re cooking every day, from scratch, and with love. Thank you for sitting down at our table.