Editor’s note: this piece was originally written in 2014, when the author was 37, on her ten-year anniversary of teaching. Many yoga teachers view having taught ten years (or twenty years, or thirty years, etc.), as important milestones. Although the author has since leaned away from regular yoga teaching, except a weekly class by Zoom for her long-time private students, I think that many yoga teachers may relate to her insights below. Since Embodied Philosophy is about to launch a thematic campaign on the Future of the Yoga Teacher, perhaps you might contemplate, as you read Kerry’s points below, in what ways your own journey might resemble or differ from her relationship to yogic traditions. -Trish Tillman
This month marks 10 years that I have been teaching Yoga. I thought I might share with you 10 highlights. They haven’t anything to do with the Ten Commandments, other than I like the word ‘decalogue.’ Here goes:
1. I started teaching after two teachers approached me about taking over their classes in a downtown St. Pete studio near my apartment (2004). I had been attending them regularly for a year and was upset they were leaving. I can not say what they saw in me and how much desperation was involved! I had no training and refused their kind offer for a couple of months. When the owners of the studio expressed interest, I acquiesced. I did get excited about it, I think… but I have always considered myself a ‘student’ and so switching gears to ‘teacher’ is not a comfortable shift. Even now.
2. It was a sink or swim situation. I practiced on my own for two years before attending my first group class. I am not one for group-style learning, so I used videos and books. I started attending classes because I had reached a place in my studies where I needed personal feedback about the experiences I was having. I took group classes for about one year before being approached to teach. I was completely ignorant of the culture of yoga building in the West and its historical context in the East. I was only interested in the practice as a psychology… as a way of spotting and shifting patterns of thought and behavior.
3. Very soon after I started teaching, Arlena Dominick arrived on the scene! This brilliant woman, who had been the previous owner and lead teacher of the studio I was teaching out of, started attending my classes on occasion. After one of them, she approached me with this line, “You want me to show you something?” Music to my ears!! That started a two year mentorship, which I consider my foundational training. Our conversations were every bit a part of that. I learned the poses, sure… but it was our dialogue about practice and placing it in a proper context that endures to this day.
4. After my son was born, I moved to Austin, where I would eventually meet and train with some Buddhist Yogis. It was there that I really got into mindfulness meditation practice. While I have always maintained a personal practice, this was the first time I really got into the vibe of public group classes… prolly the only time, come to think.
5. I moved again to St. Pete where I started teaching more and more as Porter (my kiddo) got older. My primary demographic was seniors. I get along really well with older people, for some reason, and they really like me, for some reason. I think I entertain them. At any rate, they are the reason I finally had to do more training in Anatomy. I just couldn’t problem solve their concerns/needs without it. I had run across Leslie Kaminoff’s Anatomy program and became part of the first wave of his online students.
6. Given my current enthusiasm for the subject of Anatomy and somatic studies, it’s hard to explain why it took me so long to find it. I have a great mind for science and problem solving, and place yoga practice firmly in the natural world of phenomenon. In fact, it was Leslie’s evolutionary perspective on yoga practice that sold me on it. Turns out though, that understanding Anatomy better has been the key to a more informed psychological approach to practice.
7. Let me back up two decades for a hot minute: My deep interest in psychology began when I was in high school. If I can pin it on one experience (likely a huge mistake), it would have to be my interactions with a schizophrenic cousin whose condition was and is profound. If Yoga is about integration (it is), schizophrenia is about disintegration. Total disintegration of the personality and intelligence at every level of being. That got me reading college textbooks in Abnormal Psych at 16 and the obsession developed from there.
8. The momentum of that obsession brought me to neuroscience, philosophy, evolutionary theory, etc. Broadly speaking, I am interested in the study of the human mind. Yoga interested me in part because it matched up with what I was already learning in those areas, but also offered more in the form of PRACTICE. My head was already full of theories!
9. Fast forward to now, and I will say that Yoga is the integrated frame for my studies. It encompasses all my interests and gives me a sane lens for my endless inquiry. I simply don’t know how I would have developed into an almost-not-crazy-person otherwise.
10. After I moved back to St. Pete in 2009 to now, I have acknowledged one principal teacher, Antonin Nenov. He teaches directly from the Yoga Sutras in what might be called an energetic or psychological approach to practice. Very disciplined. I have already written several other pieces on my experiences with him… so I won’t revisit the material here… other than to say, I simply don’t know how sane I would be had it not been for his influence. He really is the least confused person I have ever met.
The main image for this article is a photo of me that was taken soon after I started teaching in 2004, age 27. I was into Ashtanga and triangles… obviously 😉