So, in my last post, I was just having some fun and thinking, “oh hey, you could do a little 10 minute tiger-inspired internal practice too”, so I made one up. It’s towards the bottom of the post. Then, I was musing that I feel like you could practice this after a hard workout, now I’m having this internal debate. Oh wow, bad pun…
Okay, so first of all, I suppose I should clarify that by “tiger-inspired” I just meant that the names of some of the postures or movements are named after tigers. I have no clue whether tiger external stuff relates to tiger internal stuff and what tiger spirit is to begin with. Maybe confidence and stealth, I guess? That’s what I think of with tigers.
But then, I was like, oh, this little internal practice thing I made is pretty good. Like for me, I actually get a lot out of it. I don’t get any more out of it than other practices I do, but it is kinda fun to try things that aren’t currently in my repertoire.
I feel like maybe I implied it’s better to practice after an intense workout in my last post though and I think all I really mean to say is that when I’ve tried it out, it sometimes is easier for me to relax a little bit more because it’s such a different feeling than exerting, extending, flexing, etc. I just like that I can distinguish the contrast a bit more sometimes and being so tired, I am in this mode where I really don’t want to have to work hard anymore anyway, so I feel like it’s kind of a treat to be able to relax.
But yeah, hope folks know you can do internal energy cultivation practices anytime, anywhere, and with a couple focal points it really doesn’t matter because if you’re doing it right (and enough over time), you’ll feel something.
So using my martial arts background, I’ve come up with 4 classes I can teach to absolute beginners in a corporate/one-off “let’s just have fun, do something new and healthy” kind of setting. I tested out 2 of the 4 classes on myself this week —breathing/meditation/qi gong and stretching/yoga— and feel confident about my ability to teach them. I also modified my usual beginning tai chi class and today may try out a “kung fu boot camp” type class on myself, which basically just modifies what we did at 108 Heroes Kung Fu and Tai Chi to a more one-off setting.
I’m really digging all this, gotta say. It’s so much fun to think creatively about my various practices and use what I know to make some adjustments so they resonate with specific audiences. I’ve previously felt very dogmatic about martial arts practices and have viewed them as something where I need to not only uphold the forms but also the curriculum of learning and the teaching methods. Now, I’ve figured out a way that I can present that I feel remains true to the lineage, but also gives me room to play and have fun.
I don’t alter the postures or, in certain forms, the sequences of movement, but I have been working with packaging the material into an easy to understand class. There’s certain things I love and enjoy about my personal practice and the practice I’m led through when at a class that I’ve discovered I can’t do when teaching super beginners. I think it’s because the concepts are actually quite complex and if, as a student, you come in with a preconceived notion of what yoga is or kung fu or tai chi or meditation, then in some settings, it’s going to be a steep learning curve for you to get onboard with traditional methods of instruction and thought.
I thought, what if I could present the traditional teachings I know and love, but to people who have a very broad, highly socialized understanding of these concepts so that by the end of the class perhaps they’d be more open to exploring in depth these fascinating practices. Can I be a doorway? Maybe a gateway drug, if you will… ha!
Anyway, it’s pretty fun but as always a challenging balance of being true and respectful of my own teachings while also realizing that I may be able to lighten up on some aspects of the practice as long as I’m retaining what for me is the core. I never would have been in this more exploratory mindset had my own teachers not encouraged this type of approach. I myself was actually surprised that all my teachers had encouraged me to play, explore, and experiment in my personal practice since our bodies, minds, and lives are constantly changing.
Having this freedom has allowed me to not be hard on myself (one of my greatest challenges!) when not being able to do a full practice due to injury or time constraints. I’ve been able to retain and grow my experiences within these practices while being adaptable and not rigidly holding onto the exact same sequence or approach or goal. That being said, the structure of the practices helps me to retain my focus and track my progress on longtime goals. Or if not static goals, just see over time how I’m changing for the better as a result of practicing.
Anyway, creating my own little programs has given me a lot of insight lately and I look forward to seeing what others think too. Fingers crossed that they get something good out of it!
I taught tai chi to a corporate group the other day and it went really well. People were smiling. I felt great. I think they did too. Such a change from the last couple of times I’ve taught classes and it made me thing, “hey, maybe I’m getting better at this!”
I have to credit teachers I’ve had recently who’ve either displayed or given me feedback when it comes to teaching. I thought about it when speaking with a friend the other day who asked if I’d ever teach yoga. I kinda hemmed and hawed about it, but he pointed out that at least with beginners, I probably know more than them, so why not?
It’s this same mindset that I’ve become a bit more comfortable with when it comes to martial arts. There’s that old impostor syndrome voice that sneaks up on situations. Coupled with its best friend, Perfectionism, they make a great team of talking you out of anything. There’s a character in my generational punk play who is thrust into being the leader of a scene or movement. She says to a longtime friend coming to visit that she never liked authority and wanted to be an authority figure on anything. This is how I feel a lot of time about teaching.
There’s a side to my open-mindedness that can leave me as indecisive and passive. I think, “Well, I still have a lot to learn. I don’t feel nearly as qualified as my teachers.” I’ve gotten hung up on the idea that I need to somehow manifest the level of experience of those I’ve learned from in order to teach well. I forget what my playwriting teacher used to tell us when in grad school and preparing to teach playwriting and screenwriting the first time, which is that we’ve spent more time digging deep into story dynamics and structure than the students we’d be teaching. And even if that may not be applicable, I do subscribe to the idea that you have something to learn from everyone. Would it be so impossible that sometimes you have something to give others?
I think what went really well the other day was that I had experience under my belt to manage my expectations about what I could pass on in the time given. I had ideas of class structure based on classes I’ve attended and taught. I definitely know what I like. I know what I think is important. And I have a pretty good sense of what I do well. In the classes I taught at 108 Heroes Kung Fu and Tai Chi, I realized that because my main interest with tai chi is internal energy, I was being REALLY ambitious with how I taught people.
It was a lot of convincing people that internal energy is a thing. (It is.) But gah, how discouraging to keep trying to convince people of it day after day. I’ve been lightening up on what I do for my own personal practices and getting great results, so I figured, “Low hanging fruit: let’s just get people moving differently and introduced to the form.”
It’s like, maybe just maybe I don’t HAVE to do that much other than present this digestible chunk to folks. Talk about understanding your audience better! I really think this is why it was fun for me and fun for the group. So, comparatively, we didn’t get super far into the form and I chose to only briefly highlight internal energy cultivation once so that I felt that I was still remaining true to how I see tai chi, but I know I didn’t overwhelm people with a lot of concepts that were hard to leap to right off the bat.
And now a couple other opportunities to teach introduction classes to other mind-body practices I have have popped up and rather than being scared about knowing how to do that, I feel really confident. It gives me a new space to explore concepts and put together little programs/experiences based on what I know.
In the last week or so, I’ve started to brainstorm four different basic classes I could teach in a group setting that would be wellness focused and totally fine as one-off experiences. I’ve had fun creating playlists of music I enjoy and that wouldn’t be overly distracting. I had assembled my notes and past workbooks of concepts, postures, and forms I know and could teach easily. And I’ve figured out ways to put these different ideas together into 15, 30 and 60 minute programs. It’s not super exotic necessarily, but then I remember something my husband told me, which is probably the best teaching advice of all.
“They don’t want your teacher to teach them, they want you. You have to bring you.”