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This is the last of a three part series from our fabulous OMbassador, Shakti Sunfire, who teaches yoga and hooping around the world. Many of our followers are teachers of dance, yoga and other movement arts. We hope you enjoy this 3rd part!
In the great stories of humankind - the myths and the epics and the wise hand-me-downs of times past, there comes a moment in the journey of the hero, or heroine where they loose their way. Wrapped up in the too-smallness of their old skin in the face of their own urgent becoming, they loose sight of all the innate powers that lie within. They are knocked off the path, abducted by trolls, or dragons...they face the necessary but destabilizing fear of refinement that ultimately polishes them for the great adventure that is to come.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, we as a culture have lost a crucial piece of that story in the face of old and worn-out paradigms - egoic displays of rugged individualism. The ferocity of“I’ll do it myself” - or more commonly - “I SHOULD be able to do it myself” that is ultimately the undoing of the heros/heroines quest. The missing piece that you’ll always find in any good journey, is that the hero or the heroine NEVER DO IT ALONE.
The single most common mistake teachers make is to think themselves an island, self-sufficient unto themselves and wholly capable to slay the demon, and trick the dragon, and ascend the mountain of becoming ALONE.
I know this because I tried it, and I’m speaking from the depths of my being when I say I would not be here in the role that I am blessed to occupy - as teacher and leader, without standing on the backs of many teachers before me. I cannot stress enough just how crucial it is to align yourself with a master mentor and I’ll tell you why.
Often people ask me; “how the hell did you get to a place where you can teach full-time?”
“One part incredible luck, and one-part angelic guidance,” I’d say with a wink.
But any real time spent in reverie has me confirming for myself over and over again that really and truly, without my flesh-and-blood mentors, I would not be where I am. Which is not to say that each individual can’t become on their own. Quite the contrary. To be in the refiner’s fire of our own self-evolution is completely a personal practice. The guru does NOT indeed live outside oneself. But to loop back into the hero’s journey, what we see in nearly every tale is that the hero himself has NO idea of the kinds of powers he possesses. No idea that, like the Monkey God Hanuman, he can leap across an ocean to redeem the treasure of his desire.
Not until some benevolent being clues him in. “Remember? You’re a GOD??”
And it’s more than that. It’s interesting to me really, how many of us are fringe creatives, blazing our own trail, creating beauty and art and connection in the world, and yet, in my view, due to the particularly self-inflated nature of our western culture, we fail to see, or have forgotten that any good teaching...and good art, is accumulative and responsive. That ANY creative process is a “next-octave” of what has come before. We are tribal beings at heart, and whether or not we really take it in, we are CO-CREATIVE beings as well. But we try to hide this. We tuck what inspires us away, deep inside, where no one will ever see its source because some part of us believes ourselves lesser than, a fraud, a phony, unoriginal - GASP! The worst insult as an artist.In that particular tale Hanuman is reminded of his innate powers through the reflection of his loved ones and his friends at a crucial time of need, and not a moment before. How many times have you hit a wall, perhaps banging on the same door that will not open, and have been saved from your ruthless pounding by someone who cares about you? Who can see the bigger perspective? One you will never attain with your nose pressed against the wood grain of the door? It’s like that.
I’m being dramatic here, I know. But trust me, this is coming from direct experience and so I am picking on myself FIRST. The truth is, once I surrendered to the positive influences that are my teachers a great many more doors opened to me. And all of a sudden I had new material to play with, to try on for size. New stories to tell, new ways of thinking about sequencing, and multi-level instruction, and marketing. I had new input that highlighted for me my particular soul powers - powers I couldn’t see on my own. I had a new student base that gathered around my teachers, and I had all their feedback to inform me. Everything, in those years of direct apprenticeship was about throwing a soul piece of me out there, and waiting to see how, and in what way, it came back. Humbling myself enough to listen to those who influenced me. To feel the texture of THEIR words come out of my mouth. What fits? What doesn’t? How does that make me FEEL? Is this really ALIVE for me? All questions I would be asking myself. Taste testing. Experimenting. Searching through fields of inspiration and suggestion. And low and behold, when the time was ripe, and not a moment before, I found the ME I was searching for in all the voices and ways of the THEM.
And guess who was right there with me celebrating my discovery of all the gifts they already knew I possessed? My teachers.
A mentor of mine once said to me, the best teachers are eternal students. After nine years of intentionally saddling up to leaders I admire, I am convinced this way of leading - the open door way, where I filter in soul food from the field around me, only to process it through my lens and send it back out, creates a healthy teaching ecology, and I will never stop this practice. I will never close that door again.
I’m sure by now there are a million thoughts floating around in your brain. Some in agreement, some confusion, some ready to argue with me. I always love a good debate. But before we get into it, there is one more piece that I have learned through my own experiences as an apprentice, that is completely paramount to a healthy apprentice/mentor relationship and COMPLETELY CONTRARY to the way MOST teacher training programs are run today - in ANY and every industry.
I believe that to be a master teacher, the most important piece you can apprentice to is your DIRECT and ALIVE experience in any moment, and to source from that place unapologetically and without fail.
It’s rather hard to do this when you have someone telling you exactly how a trick should be taught and a class laid out, and a theme spoken and, and, and... Certification often seems to hinge on regurgitation rather than the preparation of your vessel for authentic voicing. No wonder it’s hard to make it as a movement guide. We’re all taught to wear clothes that don’t fit.
Human beings are intuitive. Many of us don’t believe ourselves to be, but we are immensely sensitive. We learn best when our teachers TRANSMIT lived experience through their movements and their voice.
I struggled with this in a very personal way. Having gone through over 1500 hours of yoga teacher trainings in a variety of schools of yoga, I always left the certification unfinished precisely because it was expected of me to demonstrate that I learned it THAT way and could teach it in THOSE words...when in the intelligence of my body, in the depths of my own experience I felt a different way. Perhaps a small tweak on the instruction, or order of things. Perhaps a desire to blend a few different schools based on what was coming alive for me in my own practice. And so, very early on, I decided to approach each training as a testing ground and the participation became less and less about certification, and more and more about inspiration.
I know many of you are with me on this. I also know that as creative beings we tend to do this anyway, whether or not a certification is persued and granted. We can’t help ourselves! I’m also called to say that there are reasons why certification is completely valuable. The point is not to knock it, it’s to speak to something not often spoken to.
This is the second of a three part series from our fabulous OMbassador, Shakti Sunfire, who teaches yoga and hooping around the world. Many of our followers are teachers of dance, yoga and other movement arts. We hope you enjoy this 2nd part. Shakti wrote this just for you, as a few tips on what to avoid when teaching.
Logic Without Love
“Gather around the fire. I am going to tell you story.”
In 2008, Jeremy Hsu wrote an article for Scientific American entitled The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn. In it, he examined the work of psychologists and neuroscientists who are studying the human penchant for storytelling. What they are discovering is fascinating, but it boils down to this: People are wired to enjoy stories.*
What does that have to do with masterful teaching? A few things, but the short of it boils down to the ability (or lack of ability) a teacher has to weave and curate a powerful and impactful learning environment. One that gives the student the greatest possible inroad to lasting insight and embodied knowledge. This, of course, happens in many ways - through skillful curriculum development, logical instruction and sequencing, environmental considerations such as natural light, space, and choice of music, and through the teacher’s ability to step into the seat of the teacher and hold the space for his/her students... but there is one area that is often overlooked, and in my experience quite possibly THE most important place to refine a skill set for teachers new and old : THEMING.
Theming - when done well,provides a greater CONTEXT for your students that extends beyond the confines of the classroom. Skillful theming PROVIDES MEANING that keeps your students coming back for more, and opens each individual to a variety of other innate “intelligences”, such as emotional and imaginal intelligence, that allows him/her to embody new information faster and with greater ease.
I remember when I first stepped foot inside a yoga class. The candles were lit, soft music playing, the atmosphere seemed to sparkle a little...at the very least was welcoming. I took my seat and for the next 90 minutes was guided into an experience in my body that all about my body and so much more than my body. The use of imagery was so impactful that I signed up then and there for a monthly plan. That was 14 years ago...and I haven’t stopped practicing.
I believe it to be no small coincidence that there are now over 8 million people practicing yoga in United States alone.
Human beings have evolved to respond deeply to story, metaphor and myth. Not long ago, we, as a species, passed on all useful information from one generation to another in story. In fact, the part of the brain that is our true decision maker has been found to NOT be the cerebral cortex or cognitive mind, but in fact the paleomammalian part of the brain that has, evolutionarily speaking, been with us longer. That part of the brain is our emotional intelligence. Emotions, not facts, ultimately determine our decisions.
Story, metaphor, myth and colorful imagery skip the rational layer of the brain, and move RIGHT into the long-lasting, deeply-affected paleomammalian brain where change can happen. It is here that we have deep memory. Therefore the use of this type of teaching is not only poetic and beautiful, but absolutely crucial to create the kind of experience we’re going for as empowered leaders and teachers.
- A 2007 study … found that a test audience responded more positively to advertisements in narrative form as compared with straightforward ads that encouraged viewers to think about the arguments for a product. Similarly … labeling information as “fact” increased critical analysis, whereas labeling information as “fiction” had the opposite effect. Studies such as these suggest people accept ideas more readily when their minds are in story mode as opposed to when they are in an analytical mind-set.*
What theming is NOT is arbitrary and random esoteric information that you get off on, but that has noting to do with the audience at hand. Skillful theming requires student-centric thinking.
Which leads us to the HOW of it.
There are many many ways to develop the ability to skillfully theme in your classes. Always, the underlying foundation is to source from your own lively and vibrant experience...picking out universalities that all can relate to. Books, articles, movies and more can be valuable sources, but unless the theme has been lived and embodied by YOU, the storyteller, it will not land for your students.
Here are a few words on theming from the One Hoop One Love Teacher Training and Mentorship manual :
THE STORIES WE TELL OURSELVES SHAPE OUR WORLD.
As One Hoop One Love leaders, our invocation is for wonder to return to us in our lives. To begin to see with the minds eye, means we need to return to unknowingness and to possibility. Can we begin to feel spaciousness where there was previously only compression? Can we begin to invoke a perspective in our lives that allows for the world to speak to us in symbol, serendipity, metaphor and myth? It is up to us to empower intuitive interpretation of the things we see, feel, and hear. Imagination and imagery opens the doorway to wild creativity, and that, serves the world.
A good theme can be wrapped, packaged and presented in no more than the first 5 minutes of class, then touched on at various times through MOVEMENT.
The best themes are drawn from your own present life experience, filtered back through the eyes and ears of your students.
To compose a theme, KNOW your audience. What is their life like outside of class? How can you touch them emotionally? In what ways can you imagine yourself to be in their shoes?
In this day and age we spend much of our time in the cognitive brain, weighing out comparative analysis of...well...everything. Myth and metaphor are also so important at this time because they cut out perceived differences and beliefs and move right into the heart. Myths are not untruths. In fact, they are the closest thing we can get to truth. They are universalities, that transcend space and time. They give meaning and flavor, and great purpose. To live our lives mytho-poetically is to set into motion a kind of limitless creativity that sees no coincidence and empowers radical self-acceptance as a crucial part of the whole - as the whole itself.
Our fabulous OMbassador, Shakti Sunfire, teaches yoga and hooping around the world. Many of our followers are teachers of dance, yoga and other movement arts. Shakti wrote this just for you, as a few tips on what to avoid when teaching.
To take the seat of the teacher is to self-own and self-resource FIRST. Before anyone else can believe in you and will want to learn from you, you have to believe in yourself. In that way it is a fundamental giving of PERMISSION for you to occupy the role of teacher completely, unapologetically and wholeheartedly.
When I first began to teach - scratch that - for YEARS after I began teaching I struggled with nerves. I would shake and tremble when speaking, I would spend hours that day prepping what I wanted to say, and it’d all go out the window anyway. I wouldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep well. i’d have dreams about flopping, disappointing the promoters and my students, loosing the opportunity. Letting myself down. I was all over the map.
I would regularly say to my teachers and friends who encouraged me relentlessly;
“whatever you see in me, I don’t see it in myself.”
I felt uncoordinated, unworthy, small... and what I didn’t know then, but I certainly know now is that what I was really focused on and concerned about was being judged. What I was really concerned about was the chance that this offering - this HEART craft - be minimized, belittled and laughed at.
What I didn’t know then, but I know now is that I was really good at giving my power away and believing myself less-than, like an impostor in my own skin.
Nine years later and I look back on those times and sorely wish that someone had told me what I’m about to tell you...
To teach masterfully requires you to have a deep-seated knowing that your visions, ambitions and offerings as a teacher have a place in the world...and a purpose. That is what fuels you. That is the power behind your words that exudes charisma and clarity. It will keep you living, breathing, speaking, acting and dancing YOUR truth in a way that serves the whole.
To teach masterfully is to meet your students in service of them - that really it’s not about you and whether or not you’re perfect, or whether or not you look good up there, nor how deep your words are. In fact, what self-owning is NOT is to think yourself perfect, the best, or without shortages and to reprimand yourself when your humanity shows through.
Only YOU can give yourself permission to fully and completely take the seat of the teacher. It is a glorious seat - one of deep fulfillment and a real sense of purpose, AND it is also a seat full of personal and collective responsibility, humility and exposure to high wind and weather.
As a Master Teacher You Will Need:
- magnetic appeal/charisma
- powerful voice projection
- to command an audience
- to inspire respect
Sometimes As a Teacher You Will Get:
- pulled in many directions
- projected upon with energy and emotion that isn’t yours!
- placed in uncomfortable positions for you
- less than ideal classroom settings
All of these things are solved or resourced from the seat of the teacher in your heart. You can think of it like the deep roots that can weather any storm and that are constantly drawing energy, nutrition, life-sustenance and insight from an unseen source. If you cultivate the capacity to access this source you will be able to compost ANY ENERGY that comes your way - good or bad, and alchemize it into food and fuel for your work in the world.
5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Begin to Cultivate This Capacity:
1. Hold SPACE for yourself at the beginning and end of class.
Give yourself time at the beginning and ending of your class that prepares you psycho-spiritually for teaching. Take what ‘you’ time you need, so that the time you spend in front of others can truly be about them.
2. Connect with your BODY (physical intelligence).
As movement guides we know the body is gateway to the soul. Ground your energy in the here and now by connecting with your breath, the connection of your feet on the earth, and use physical sensation as anchor.
3. Practice, and listen for, sacred speech.
We are often taught to play small, that it’s safer not to be noticed, to not push others around, but active voicing is truly a compassionate way to speak if you are in the seat of the teacher. Using active voice will let your students relax into their role as student, into the arms of you, as teacher and leader. They want that. You want that. Everybody wins. Switching from the habit of using passive voice to active voice may take some time and dedication, but drawing awareness to the power of your word choice is a step into taking the seat as leader and teacher.
- Speak to the truth of the moment. Let that set you free.
- Passive vs. active voice
- Projection - say it like you mean it
4. Take a course that helps you connect with your soul purpose and essential self.
The best teachers are eternal students. One of the easiest ways we can stay connected in the seat of the teacher is to teach only what is truly ALIVE for us. Not a memorized recital of somebody else’s languaging. Be the student, embody your passions, and teach from that place.
5. Work with your inner critic or any other sub-personality work that may be “steering the ship”.
As guides it is our responsibility to identify and work with aspects of self that may be sabotaging our time in service to others. Read Bill Plotkin’s Wild Mind; a fantastic resource that will help you to speak and act from a place of wholeness.
And finally, surround yourself with people who believe in you and what you're doing. Ask for help when you need it. Ask for mirroring when you feel defeated, and know that by definition, the teacher leads the pack, and therefore is equally exposed to the refiner's fire. Learn to embrace that energy, and you will soar.
Featured OMbassador Blog Posts from The OM Collection's first OMbassador Shakti Sunfire. Never miss an update from Shakti and our other OMbassadors, sign up for The OM Collections's Monthly Newsletter. (Editors Note)
I just finished the book, “Sex at Dawn”. Easily, in my opinion, of the most influential and socially-inquisitive anthropological works of our time. It’s a study of the evolution of human sexuality from pre-history to today that states we as a species have un-necessarily and quite falsely placed ourselves in a box of universal monogamy as the key to successful relationship. I know what you’re thinking...another book about polyamory. Another hippie-dippy summer of love symposium of an experiment we all know went array a long time ago. As a fellow cynic I assure you, it’s worth the read...if nothing else then for the jarring question; are we living in a rigid, socially constructed idea of relationship that just may be creating the dis-ease? Are we holding so tightly to our history that we can’t possibly make room for the present? Are we living in fear and shame behind the scenes (monumental divorce rates, adulteries, and broken families) only to plaster a smile on our faces and laugh together during “Desperate Housewives”?