I don’t usually study with other yoga teachers and here’s why: I live hours from any major city centre and tend to stay close home. I like doing my own practice in the Yoga Shed. And, well, okay, I’m a bit of a snob. I want to study with the best when I take time to travel long distance and spend time with a teacher.
Recently, when the opportunity to study with Donna Farhi arose, I leapt at it.
She and I go back. Not long after Donna moved to New Zealand from the States, we invited her to come to our school, the Sydney Yoga Centre to teach. That was twenty years ago.
Back then, Donna surprised my students and me by teaching us something called ‘development movement patterns‘. Donna felt passionate about teaching this stuff because she believed that these movements represent natural and universal patterns that underpin all yoga poses.
Our SYC yoga teacher trainees had been strictly schooled in alignment and in long timings in classical yoga poses. But, in Donna’s workshop, they found themselves being directed back to the beginnings of movement, even in utero. We were on the floor swimming in imaginary amniotic fluid, moving through the various developmental stages to all-4’s crawling, followed by learning contra-lateral movements, and eventually standing upright. In retrospect, the work we did makes sense, yet at the time some of us were rather resistant to learning something so radically different.
In the workshops I’ve just done with Donna, the emphasis was not on these patterns. We got down to practical things like sharpening our kinaesthetic skills and learning optimum ways of taking care of necks, shoulders, and the sacroiliac joint.
I went to the seminars with an open mind, knowing that I would take away lots of new techniques and information, which I did.
In the end though, I received much more than those. I was able to hang out with a teacher who knows how to be. Don’t get me wrong. I love knowing new ways of using props and refreshing anatomical knowledge. I enjoy hanging with my colleagues in the yoga community and meeting the younger generation of teachers and students.
Yet, in my world, being with someone who is authentic and fully present trumps the opportunity to improve my alignment or expand my anatomical vocabulary. I guess what I’m saying is that my purpose for doing yoga has changed over the years.
Donna generously shared her ability to be with all of us. The good thing about this ability is that it is like an electrical current. Once you get yourself plugged in, being is contagious and portable. It takes practice but you can recreate it yourself.
Anyone who has taught for awhile will tell you that it is much easier to teach poses than it is to facilitate being and becoming. Donna was brave in her early days of teaching, beating a path through the thicket of dogma and conventional teaching and to come so strongly from her own experience.
If you would like inspiration for teaching more authentically and for cultivating being, I recommend Jay Fields’ excellent book, Teaching People, Not Poses: 12 Principles for Teaching Yoga With Integrity. At the top of Jay’s list of her 12 suggestions for teaching with integrity is ‘Be Yourself’.
Probably the Old Sage, Patanjali, would have written: Be Your Self or even just Be.
Note: If the idea of exploring developmental movement patterns interests you, Donna will be teaching a 5-day intensive in Sydney in June 2015.