Wednesday, May 31, 2006

full boat pose

One of the most rewarding things I do out here on Cruise Ship X is teach yoga classes for the crew. I started on the last Cruise Ship X, for the simple reason that people would get curious and ask me about it, or say they were interested, and I was the only one who was there to do it. Now, I´m teaching more often (and frankly, better), and I have a small but consistent band of regular students. Which also makes teaching easier.

Now, I don´t pretend to be a great teacher. While my experience as a student is substantial, I have no formal training, relying mostly on what I´ve been taught, my experience as a music teacher (on some level, I find that teaching is teaching, regardless of the subject), some books and a lot of advise from teachers I admire. That said, I think I`m improving, and the classes are showing it.

Classes here are just a little different from at home, though. For one, half of my typical class´ first language isn´t English, something I didn´t quite anticipate. A lot of senior teachers say that you shouldn´t demonstrate poses- you aren´t able to focus as fully on the needs of the class, and it´s too much monkey see- monkey do for the students- and I think I agree, but so far Í haven´t seen another option. For another, the reaction from students is quite different. A lot of my students are Eastern European, and they keep telling me what we do resembles the gymnasium classes they took as kids. (Not surprisingly, they tend to be in better shape than their American counterparts, even the ones who work out).

One thing that does carry over internationally, though, is body image issues. (On my last ship, another odd turn, my classes were 80% male. Here it´s more typical of a yoga class- 60-90% female). Having grown up without sisters, and having dated women who (in front of me, at least), were very secure about how they looked, I´ve been rather shielded from the body anxiety that afflicts many women. Or, I´ve practiced my invinsible ignorance.

There´s a good piece in the latest Yoga Journal on this topic, which I´ll like to when it goes online. It starts with a recent survey done by Dove, the love-your-body soap company, that says that 73% of women surveyed said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their appearance. My classes seem to bear this out- if I tell people to put their feet in the air, I hear someone muttering about how ugly their toes are, people who resist when I say to widen your sitbones (read, make your butt bigger) in a pose. I guess I´m not surprised, but sad nonetheless.

Finally, teaching gives me even more regard for good yoga teachers. Because yoga is more than a set of movements, I think it´s important to put heart and (dare I say it) spirituality front and center in a class. Otherwise it´s just slightly bendier aerobics At the same time, you have to lead people with very different bodies through the same postures, in a way that makes sense and brings benefits to all of them. I do, I will continue to sturggle to join the two. (My current M.O. is when in doubt, focus on the body.) And I´m excited to get home and see my teachers again.

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