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Seven qualities my teachers taught me that endure

Yoga teacher Alexa Mergen reflects on ten years since she started training

This year marks my tenth as a yoga teacher. Whether or not you believe in the 10-year, 10,000-hour theory popularised by journalist Malcolm Gladwell – that practice time correlates with mastery – reaching double digits of years of lesson design causes me to reflect on which of the gifts and guidelines my teachers gave me have endured.

My hope is that in sharing my gleanings, you will recognise qualities given to you by your own teachers. You may find that these qualities have become a part of your yoga practice or even world view, and you'll set them down in your journal for reference. Maybe you will also find a card and a stamp and write a teacher a thank you.

  • Foster a sense of playfulness. I learned this from my 200-hour teacher trainer Michelle Marlahan. The word 'play' comes from an old Dutch word meaning to 'leap for joy' or 'dance'. Encouraged by her example, I'd often arrive early to teach lessons in the studio that became my second home. There in the empty room, as commute traffic steamed by, I'd leap across the bamboo floors and dance behind the sheer white curtain.
  • Cultivate discipline. Discipline relates to 'discerning' and means to learn. Cyndi Lee granted my 500-hour RYT certificate after months of tough studies. Cyndi arrived at yoga from dance, and she demanded from us some of the formality found in a ballet studio. We students attentively stood for demonstrations. We showed respect for the arts of yoga and teaching.
  • Choose a focus. Cyndi channelled my wide-ranging curiosity by telling me to 'get in one boat'. A Buddhist as well as a yogi, Cyndi knows what all good teachers do: go deep. She pointed me to the Zen studies that inform my simple, consistent and loving approach to teaching and practice.
  • Be inspired by the wonder of nature. The sonorous voice of Angela Farmer sounds in my ears whenever I root into the earth like a tree or unfurl like a snail. Metaphor invites us to imaginatively connect with the living trees, waters and animals around us through breath and movement. In this way, the practice takes us beyond.
  • Grow community. My first yoga class in 1995 was at the Ann Arbor, Michigan YMCA. I do not remember the teacher's name. But I was already a school teacher myself and recognised her skill as a teacher even if I had no idea what asana was. Because of her example, I never turn down an opportunity to teach in a community setting. I know it only takes a few minutes of yoga to change a person's life. And I believe yoga is for all of us.

  • Aspire to help. Cyndi Lee would ask, 'Why be a yoga teacher?' We knew the answer: 'To be helpful.'
  • Begin. My first foray into teaching was as a substitute for beginner classes taught by Madeleine Lohman. Madeleine's precise lesson plans allowed me to observe the awakening and unfolding in students. I saw how different bodies experience the same pose. I shared in students' joy. We are all beginners beginning again every time we engage with the study and teaching of yoga.

Alexa Mergen

Alexa Mergen (RYT-500) writes about yoga, nature and animals from Sacramento, Calif.