Why I Love Teaching Baptiste Yoga!
By Hannah Jenkins
Baptiste yoga is the heated power vinyasa practice of a sequence called Journey Into Power, developed by Baron Baptiste. Each section of the sequence has an intention, and the entire practice is specifically designed to bring students to their growing edge. This practice has changed the way I handle challenges and react to being outside of my comfort zone. It may
seem counter-intuitive, but I find that having the JIP sequence as a sort of set-menu from which to teach is liberating for me as a teacher. Going in, I never quite know what is going to happen, but it’s always a combination of myself and whatever I may be feeling, mixed with the energy of the students.
Knowing the sequence in my own body so well helps me feel connected to individual students in specific ways. Having done it so many times, with so many different iterations of my own body, in so many different moments in time of my life, helps me feel like I can relate to all different experiences. I know what they're going through because--odds are--I have been there. Angry, sad. Frustrated, scared. We are taught to speak to what is needed, so everything beyond calling the pose is based on what I see and feel. The set sequence frees me of needing to plan, to think about the class without seeing the students, how they show up. I can level up or down, whatever is needed, wherever that growing edge is.
The Journey Into Power sequence is highly scientific. It's modern. It's athletic. As teachers, we are trained to use clear and simple language. When I practice JIP, I know I am opening up (or at least becoming aware of) every pocket of stuck energy trapped in my body, and stretching and strengthening my whole body. In Baptiste classes, we presence deep connection to breath, clear drishti, tapas (that fiery, cleansing internal heat), a strong connection to foundation (hands, feet, core) and together, create FLOW. In moments of challenge, especially, these tools help yogis stay present, in their physical experience. Learning how to be present and notice bodily sensations translates off the mat. We do get a lot of super physical types, who I have find myself reminding that to get the mental and emotional benefits, you have to bring in drishti and breath--otherwise it’s just contorting your body into weird shapes.
The physical challenge is the gateway to a sense of greater possibility and, ultimately, empowerment. The yogis on their mat empower themselves by rising to the challenge, going to what we in Baptiste call their “growing edge.” At that edge, you are faced with a choice: to stay, to be with (and breathe with) that discomfort, or to back off, think about other things, and wait for the pose to be over. Essentially, this moment is a test of your willingness to grow. How you show up on your mat is probably how you're showing up in your life. Can you breathe into the wobbling, into the shakiness, into the uncertainty? Maybe it’s a softening edge; can you continue to breathe and be aware of your physicality in the quiet moments, when your mind starts talking to you about whatever is next on your to-do list? Are you willing to practice non-judging and non-reactivity when faced with that opposite-end-of-the-spectrum-type of discomfort?
When I began to focus on my drishti on my mat, I noticed a radical shift in my life. I was under the impression I could never focus without ADHD medication. I realized that practicing that laser beam focus of my drishti on my mat led to a breakthrough in my ability to set goals for myself and stay focused on attaining them. By “practicing” I mean forgetting, realizing, and re-committing, on repeat. Come to your mat with something you want to grow on your life, and cultivate it in your practice. What Baptiste yoga gives me as a teacher is the adaptability and autonomy: I teach based on what is real for me in the moment, and share myself accordingly. Sometimes, I don’t know how I feel. In those moments, I am especially grateful for all the physical tools I have to tune into my body. When I fumble my words I notice my breath stop in a momentary state of panic. In that moment, I practice letting myself off the hook and encourage my students to join me and let themselves off the hook, too. In teaching and in practicing, no class will be perfect. As both teacher and student I practice giving up “getting it right” and instead showing up vulnerably, embracing the messiness, and having some fun with it.
The best part is: You can always begin again. And when you do, you start from that same point: meeting yourself where you are. I start there when I teach, and I start there when I practice (or try my best to, at least). The way the experience of teaching and practicing of Baptiste Yoga mirrors each other gives me chills. True North Alignment ties every pose together. When I teach I stand in my True North. Perhaps this fluidity between my being a student and a teacher is not specific to Baptiste Yoga, however keeping (almost) the same sequence every time and having something different show up each time serves as a barometer, creating (for me) a deeper awareness of my physical body and how it connects to my mental and emotional state than I ever thought possible.
If you want to try Baptiste Yoga in San Francisco visit www.baptisteyogasf.com. The studio is located at 38 Mesa Street (in the Presidio). You can also check out the Baptiste Institute's website (www.baptisteyoga.com) and locate Baptiste teachers and Baptiste affiliated studios across the country, and in other parts of the world.