By Ali Valdez
Recently, I have added on to my teacher training curriculum the inspirational and well-crafted book The Great Work of Your Life, by Stephen Cope. Very seldom do I wish that I had written someone else’s book, but this particular book is so hand in glove for me, I feel like he put to page in an extraordinary way what I verbalize in the YogaBlueprint portion of my training program. So first off, thanks Stephen Cope. If you haven’t read the book, take a moment after this blog and get it, then write me and please let me know what you think. I hope you like it as much as I do.
During this last yoga retreat that I just completed in Peru, after reading this book, I felt an encouraging reminder of why I teach yoga in the first place. It is of course to be in a role of service. But more importantly it is a profound creative outlet. It isn’t about pumping out classes, or making a living; it is about what Stephen defines as the great work of my life. I strive like Camille Carot or like John Keats to bring something both beautiful and uniquely my own into the world. In over fifteen years of teaching asana, I have never taught the same class twice. Even when I teach Hot Hatha, my creative mind cannot remain contained. Like a freight train, releasing steam, it is ok with staying on the tracks in a singular direction but I still need to allow myself and the students to find something different both in the practice as rote as it is and as diverse and spectacular as they are. Facets, complexities are not there nor should be ideated for sheer vanity. It has to still be a puzzle when put together; a puzzle that possesses proper structure, form and creates a clear image. This represents both the wrought complexities of the individualized self applying a broad set of resources it has available and the single-pointed meditative mind that yoga practice can deliver.
Several years back, a very successful studio owners with a half dozen studios under her belt took one of my classes. She has been taking my classes at this point for years as I worked for her as a regular yoga teacher for almost ten years. She hired me to lead and develop her teacher training programs. She considered me a business advisor and confidante. She walked out and said, “that was truly a master class par excellence.” I cannot say that I did anything wildly different than I had done in the past. I had applied the same rigor, I believe, to how I structure the class, the poetry in motion of linking various asana transitions and combinations. I did not play it up because the owner was in the back row, I was just myself.
Sometimes I think our best work comes as a teacher from entering into the current of one’s authentic self, and not trying to master or perfect a sequence. Some people have this skill naturally and others need a lot of practice and discipline to cultivate it. That day, to my knowledge, it flowed naturally.
What struck me about that moment was simply this: as a long time writer and established poet from early on in my life, someone say my poetry expressed in teaching a class and not by surveying a page of perfectly placed words.
Like Keats, it was the epiphonic moment whereby I saw my ability to create or explore aspects of poetry in a new paradigm. Making poetry through sound, shape and body. This was like when I took my first asana classes back in San Francisco when the light once again shined brightly that all of my years dedicated to contemplative practice and mentoring others in spirituality could divinely converge with my love of physical activity. I cannot tell you how much my heart expands at the idea that, like Cope clearly lays out in his awesome book, all the things I love the most have an intersection point, a hair-breadth convergence into one solitary art that can inspire and sustain me for a lifetime: the poetry of motion in teaching yoga. That is dharma at its finest moment. It is my understanding the true eka-grata of one’s life. Flow and you know that you will flower like the loveliest poem that can move mountains and be a zeitgeist for the times.