First Yoga Lesson

by Mary Oliver

“Be a lotus in the pond,” she said, “opening

slowly, no single energy tugging

against another but peacefully,

all together.”

I couldn’t even touch my toes.

“Feel your quadriceps stretching?” she asked.

Well, something was certainly stretching.

Standing impressively upright, she

raised one leg and placed it against

the other, then lifted her arms and

shook her hands like leaves. “Be a tree,” she said.

I lay on the floor, exhausted.

But to be a lotus in the pond

opening slowly, and very slowly rising—

that I could do.

As teachers, placing ourselves in the experience of the beginning student is invaluable. Asking questions, observing and listening both for what is said and what is not said is important. However, most beginners are not Pulitzer-prize winning poets. They may not have the words to articulate their experience. Yoga is so new to their bodies and minds.

Remembering back to and reflecting on our beginning experiences of yoga is a way into this perspective. Consider your first yoga classes. How did the practice land in your body and mind? How did you feel physically and emotionally before, during and after class? What were the challenges? What kept you coming back?

However we do it, being able to place ourselves ourselves in the student’s body and understand their experience of yoga is what allows us to authentically connect with and serve new students. It allows us to meet them where they are at and offer what we know in a digestible, thoughtful and appropriate way. Most importantly, it helps us to master the skill of teaching to those standing in front of us.