A beginner’s thirst for knowledge, whether it’s in yoga or learning Latin, is a wonderful thing to behold. By Victoria Jackson
I just overheard my husband organising next year’s teaching rota. Don’t think we’re one of those yoga teacher couples — he’s just a university lecturer! The bit of the conversation I caught was about who wanted to teach the beginner language courses. It seemed as though his colleagues fell into two groups. There were those who love teaching first year students, finding them fresh and enthusiastic, and there were others who only want to teach more advanced students, because they are more challenging and therefore more satisfying.
It made me wonder: where do I stand as a yoga teacher? And does this issue even make sense in a yoga context? After all, most classes are ‘open’, meaning that beginners and seasoned practitioners are mixed together. A beginner is often relatively easy to spot in the mix, but less so the ‘advanced’ student. It might be the most bendy girl in the front row or the keen bean who’s racked up attendance at a load of workshops, but just as often it’s the quiet one in the corner who just gets on without any fuss. It’s not so easy to make neat categories of yoga students based on attainment or ability.
Back in my husband’s world, teaching a beginner language course is pretty straightforward — even if the language in question is Latin! From knowing nothing at all, students make fast progress and soak up new knowledge like a sponge.
Is that true of yoga too? Looking back at my early yoga life, I’m pretty sure I was more of a brick than a sponge for quite a long time! My body was not strong or flexible, I could never remember sequences and I’m pretty sure I forgot to breathe unless I was reminded by the teacher. I’m not at all sure I made such gratifyingly rapid progress.
My own students don’t seem to have quite so many difficulties, I’m happy to say. One beginner even started classes with me during the lockdown. She jumped right into online classes, not at all phased by being the newcomer. She asked for help with the basics and researched the poses on her own, she practiced patience with herself and didn’t get caught up in comparisons with others. If that’s not really an advanced yoga practice, I don’t know what is.
It almost makes me wish I could go back to being a beginner myself and experience all the curiosity and excitement of new discoveries. Maybe this time I’d be ready to soak it up like a sponge!
Victoria Jackson lives and teaches in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance Professionals as a Vinyasa yoga teacher.