Rural places want and need yoga. The task for a rural yoga teacher is to create a sacred space in public places.
For the past two years, I have been teaching yoga in towns of 4,000 or fewer.
In Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, I opened Simple, Joyful Yoga, a studio based in my living room. I taught more than 500 hours of yoga lessons in one year.
Now I live in the remote Great Basin mountain town of Ely, Nevada, where I hold classes in churches, community centers, private homes and even at the city swimming pool.
Planning and leading classes in disparate venues, I have determined that yoga spaces are not about statues or incense, mellow music or props. Rather, like the tone of a bell, the teacher’s tone sets the mood of the practice space. First and foremost, that mood is cultivated through her own habits, long and dedicated practice, with others and alone.
While working as a teaching artist to bring poetry to schools, senior centers, parks and prisons, I learned to center in stillness before parting my lips to speak. Along the way I picked up a song, a variation of the St. Francis “Make me an instrument,” which has become my silent teaching prayer. I summon it in silence upon wakening each day, when beginning my own yoga practice, before leading a class, and during students’ savasana.
I also read the news every morning. If I am to create the causes and conditions for students to experience harmony in breath and body — with themselves and others, between ourselves and the broader community — I need to be informed about the suffering, confusion and gladness breaking offshore in the world. Breath, movement and meditation help me cultivate the equanimity to accept and appreciate reality. From that place of honesty, I can clarify where love fits in, today.
I rarely read quotes or poems in class, or play music. I rely on voice and directions combined with the students’ focus and energy, and the tempo of the practice. I know this: trust the teachings, implement them with sincerity and joy, and yoga happens.
A vase of flowers, a round yoga mat, a chime, a crystal: These can create a temporary altar. But ultimately, it’s the energy of a teacher that must infuse a room.
The teacher does not make the practice space sacred. The sacredness of the students — who take time to feel, think and learn — hallows the space. Once gathered, the teacher opens to grace and becomes, for that hour or so, a contemporary facilitator of an ancient tradition, an instrument.
Author Photo credit: Matt Weiser. Article Photo credit: Alexa Mergen.