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What it means to stay in the learning

One of the final pieces of advice our teachers gave us when we completed the ACCESS teacher training program was to stay in the learning.

As a new teacher, that made sense to me. After all, I was new. The ACCESS program covered a ton of ground, but I also had plenty of learning left to do. Although I felt confident, I was also fairly humble in my newness. In the past five months of teaching, sometimes “staying in the learning” has looked like feedback from fellow teachers, or students in class. Sometimes it looks like paying particular attention to one aspect of another teacher’s method. Sometimes it’s recognizing what inspires my own practice, and trying that on for myself as a teacher.

But as a yogi, in my personal practice, sometimes I forget to stay in the learning. Sometimes I tell myself a story about why I can’t.

Just the other week in class, as the teacher cued for the transition from airplane to half moon, she asked us to look up to our top hand, if only for two breaths. I said no. Not out loud, of course, but in my mind, in my thoughts. In my body, my gaze stayed glued to the ground.

I’ve been working for months on this transition from airplane to half moon, to challenge myself to keep my bottom hand lifted to my heart and not rely on the ground or block for stability. I wobble and then remember to re-engage my muscles, to press through my foot and hug in through my core.

But I don’t shift my gaze.

I am sure that if I did, I would fall out of the pose I’ve worked so hard to achieve. So as the teacher cued to look up, I instead clung to my drishti on the ground as if it were the block. I kept my balance. I felt good.

Here’s the fact: I remained in the pose.

Here’s the interpretation: I did good.

Here’s the story: I am a good yogi.

But in that moment, as I realized my immediate and adverse reaction to “Lift your gaze” in this right-side half moon, I also asked myself — what is so terrible about falling over?

The fact is, sometimes I do fall. Sometimes, when I lift my gaze in half moon, I fall over. Sometimes, it can feel like a struggle, physically and mentally to get back into the pose.

But there’s no need for the interpretation that falling is failing, and there’s no need to craft a negative story from it, either. If I focus only on wanting to be “good” at yoga, then I allow my pride to limit me from staying in the learning.

And isn’t that true in life, as well? It’s our pride that stops us for asking for feedback, from trying something new, from speaking up with our ideas. Our pride stops us from admitting that, some days, this is where we are, and that’s OK.

One of my favorite articles about practicing and teaching yoga talks about the expectation that every person in a yoga studio is this super flexible, very zen, magical god or goddess. There is an assumption that yoga is just a skill, something we can be “good” or “bad” at.

Instead, this author argues:

Yoga is about trying new things — things that scare you — and not becoming attached to the outcome of those things.”

It’s about staying in the learning.

So my challenge to you (and my challenge to myself!) is to drop your story. Drop what gets in the way, give up what you must, and be open to something bigger.

Lift your gaze.

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