Who remembers high school geometry? I do. I remember it fondly. Doc Bowers? The guy who wore the bow ties? But, wait, that was trig maybe? Geometry was Clarke? Shoot, it all blends together. Now I really don't remember. At least I don't remember anything more than sneaking off campus to go to lunch and that was right past Bingham and Bingham was the math building. And I remember Bowers throwing chalk too. And erasers. Those were good times.
I remember enjoying geometry. I remember Emily Mitchell singing the ex equals negative bee plus or minus the square root of bee squared minus four aye see in homeroom. I remember the tick marks noting isosceles triangles and the square thingy to denote a right triangle. I remember those days as exciting, electric, the beginning of knowledge, the cultivation of ability and a step on the road to intellectual accomplishment.
But before all of that, before we got to the fun stuff, there was algebra. Polynomials and factoring and all that tedious math which most of us mostly hate but sometimes we get a little geeky about. Parabolas and asymptotes. I always loved asymptotes. Asymptote always seemed like the perfect mantra for me, reaching, or perhaps striving, and maybe meeting at infinity, but never quite there in real time no matter how infinitesimally close the gap may seem or how long I wait.
WTF am I writing about? Yoga of course. Because yoga and math go hand in hand. They are practically one and the same. I mean, is there a single math major who doesn't practice yoga? Or a yoga instructor who doesn't absolutely love math, especially doing math homework? Yeah, right.
The thing about yoga, well, the thing about teaching yoga is that it's nothing like anything else I do. That is why I love it so much.
Most of what I do I gain appreciation for in advance, I learn while doing, and I become proficient with over time. That is true of running, and it is especially true with software and computer science in general. I'm not the smartest guy on the planet, I'm not the brightest bulb in the pack, but I can learn stuff and apply what I've learned in useful ways. My brain does work, perhaps not as well as many others, but I can trust it to operate at a basic level. I can trust that over time I will asymptotically approach a state of experience. Eventually I will become capable. Improvement in most things is inevitable as time turns elastic.
What is different about teaching yoga? It is much like half pigeon pose. I'm good at the try harder parts of life. I'm good at the delayed gratification stuff. I can put the miles in and pay in advance. Where I suck is sitting still and letting go in order to arrive. I suck at surrendering. I suck at intuitive, gut-driven, in-the-moment, feeling-inspired, ah-ha moments.
As I gain knowledge of yoga, as I learn and grow and experience what it is like to attempt to teach, and in particular to attempt to string my own flow together, I think a more apt analogy than asymptote is escape velocity. I feel like the gap between myself and the teachers I admire increases as I gain awareness of what it takes to teach a good class. I honestly believe that most of the brilliance of a truly great yoga instructor is lost on most students. At least that is true of me. I can only begin to understand the brilliance of a typical high school dropout, weed-smoking yoga instructor after many years of study and on-the-mat experience. This boggles my mind beyond belief. The more I know, the more intimidated I am by the prospect of trying to somehow emulate that which I increasingly admire. How can this be true? I don't get it. Usually the more I know, the more confident I feel about my abilities. In the case of yoga, the more I know, the more humbly amazed I become.
This may sound like hero worship. It probably comes off that way. But I think it's worth mentioning that I'm not completely insane, I do realize that yoga's place in most minds isn't at the top of some pinnacle of human achievement. I do realize that we're talking about a practice which has more grey area than black and white, where it's almost impossible to call anyone out as wrong.
I know better than to think that yoga is anything more than personal preference. Some prefer Ashtanga, others Iyengar, others Anusara. Each instructor has their own followers, those who proclaim their greatness and some even have celebrities like Bikram who wears a speedo and dances on banks and treats the world like his own personal urinal. There are countless yogi's who have taken too long of a pull on their own peace pipe and can no longer see straight. I know my own preferences are just that, preferences, not universal truths about what is best for all of mankind.
But I'll be honest when I say that I find teaching yoga as something that is really effing hard. And by observing my own ineptitude I am supremely humbled by those who make it look easy. Because to the beginner student, it seems easy. The rookie cannot begin to understand what is actually going on in their body and how those subtly crafted emotions are mixed at just the right concentration in the mind of the instructor. The newb cannot fully understand all of the permutations which were avoided in order to have a flow which just makes sense. All we can do as students is taste the porridge that is poured for us and smile when it seems just right.