After ten or fifteen minutes in the deep relaxation of Savasana, the teacher begins to recall students back to themselves, from Corpse Pose back to life. Little bits of movement, stretches, maybe even a yawn. Roll on to the side and slowly sit back up. There’s a reason why this is often a favorite pose. The peace and calm radiate throughout the room.
When I teach yoga, I don’t stand at the front of the room and do every pose. My preference is to demonstrate a pose and then watch the class, looking for people who are struggling, who might benefit from a bit of coaching or a supportive prop, or who could use a modification of the pose. I’m watching the clock to make sure I’m managing time well. During Savasana I’m guiding the relaxation and the ending which is also important. I’m teaching yoga not practicing yoga.
What I didn’t expect is that I would feel just as good after teaching yoga as I do after practicing yoga. While I don’t get the same stretch or muscle workout, the focus of teaching the class, paying attention to their experience, slowing my breath during Savasana all work together in the same way for my mental and emotional energy. In this way, teaching yoga is very much like leadership. A teacher’s focus is not internal, but both internal and external as is a leader’s. The focus is on the experience of each individual and it’s on the experience of the class as a whole. But a teacher who is not paying attention to her own experience or managing her energy can end up creating a class that is at best ineffective and at worst harmful. Teaching yoga, like leading, is an interpersonal, interdependent experience and teachers, like leaders, can cause harm to others.
Savasana as a yoga practice gives us the opportunity to experience the greatest benefit of a class or practice session. Reflection and self-awareness as a leadership practice, taking time to pay attention to our interactions with others, and our own mental and emotional reactions to our experiences gives the opportunity to create the most effective leadership experiences for our colleagues and for ourselves.
Yoga teacher Rolf Gates puts it this way, “Yoga is not a work-out, it is a work-in. And this is the point of spiritual practice; to make us teachable; to open up our hearts and focus our awareness…” I’d add to that – Leading is also a work-in and we lead best when we are teachable, able to open our hearts, and focus our awareness.