Judith Hanson Lasater has taught yoga since 1971, and is widely regarded as a teacher of teachers. In this interview, she sat down with Eva Norlyk Smith from Yogatherapyweb.com to share some of her reflections on yoga, how it’s changed, and the art of teaching in prelude to her upcoming webinar: The Art of Being—Yoga As a PsychoSpiritual Practice.
This is Part 2 – Read Part 1 Here
Eva Norlyk Smith: The interesting thing about yoga is that it tends to have very spiritual effects, even if you don’t approach it from the angle of wanting a spiritual practice—at least if you define ‘spiritual’ as getting a deeper experience of yourself and the world. Has that been your experience?
Judith Hanson Lasater: Well, I certainly didn’t want any of that “spiritual stuff” when I started practicing yoga in my early 20’s. But once you begin to observe and pay attention and be brought into the present, it is profoundly powerful. It almost doesn’t matter what does that for you, yoga or something else. The techniques, the asanas, are not the yoga. The residue that the techniques leave is the yoga. When we begin to look deeply at our speech, our posture, our breath, our thoughts, our choices, or our values, and observe those with compassion and a certain distance, we are changed forever.
ENS: The witness.
JHL: Or the Self, Capital S, Self. That’s all there is, anyway. It just takes many forms.
ENS: How does this inform your own teaching?
JHL: The most important part of being a yoga teacher, in my opinion, is to be a mirror. Do what you need to do in order to become the mirror to reflect back the inner radiance and inherent goodness of the student, so that they see their own inner radiance and inherent goodness.
When we are in touch with our inner radiance and inherent goodness, we cannot harm self or others, because we see divinity everywhere, first in ourselves. And that’s the job of the teacher, to find that in him or her self and reflect it back—through words, through actions, through poses, through meditation.
We become an alchemist. In alchemy, the belief was you could turn lead into gold. If we are in touch with our own gold, then we just radiate it out. That’s the easiest thing in the world.
ENS: Becoming a yoga teacher is a wonderful profession, as we know. But it’s not easy! What is the most significant piece of advice that you would give to new yoga teachers today?
JHL: Well, there are three things. Number one is to practice yoga every day.
Number two is to always stay curious, open. Continue to learn. Never think you know what yoga is. Keep learning. Keep opening. Keep reading.
The third thing is be clear on your values and your intentions. In my own teaching, I always abide by three values and intentions. When I walk into the classroom, the very first thing that I want to do is connect with myself. What’s going on? What’s arising? Am I happy? Am I tired? Am I anxious? It doesn’t matter what arises, but I want to be attentive to what is coming from my deep self at that moment, as a human being. Because if I’m not connected to me, there is absolutely no way I can connect to the students.
The second value is to see with my heart the person who is in front of me. Not the person who they are pretending to be, but who they really are, and what they are really asking me with their question. What are they really expressing with their body in the pose? Who are they, really?
So, I’m giving them my full attention with my eyes, with my mind, and with my heart. My highest value as a teacher is to be radically present with the person, who is in front of me at the very moment, not the person from last week. Not that person with my expectations and beliefs projected on them, but the human being with the inner radiance and inherent goodness, who is standing in front of me. Can I be deeply present with them and see them?
The third thing on the list, and this is in the order of importance, is the task at hand, teaching them the pose. When I first started teaching, I used to think the most important thing was teaching them the pose, then paying attention to them, then thinking about myself. I had it completely reversed.
I don’t believe that anymore, and the results have been profoundly satisfying. What I hear now, if I may be so bold, is that people don’t say to me “that was the best shoulder stand I ever did,” or, “I really liked that forward bend, it felt so much better.” Rather, mostly what people say to me—and I’m very humbly receiving this—is, “You changed my life. You helped me understand myself. I feel so much more hopeful now.” And I think that comes from being really clear on my intentions and my values in teaching.
My best advice for young teachers is to think deeply about what your values are in teaching and practicing of yoga. Study and teach from your deepest self. Stand on the mat in your own light and teach from your inner radiance and your inherent goodness.
That’s a big order. That’s what it’s about. We have a deep, deep profound joy and luck to be having this as our work in life, to be the mirror. And it is a profound honor to teach yoga. I want us all to do it with unbounded respect for self and others at every moment, and with kindness. This doesn’t mean you don’t ask someone to do something that might be difficult, but only within the context of kindness, deep and profound kindness.
Enormous thanks to Judith Hanson Lasater and Eva Norlyk Smith for this thought-provoking, insightful interview.
Download and listen to the full recording of Practicing Radical Presence: The Art of Teaching Yoga – An Interview with Judith Hanson Lasater here.
Sign up for Judith Hanson Lasater’s upcoming webinar on The Art of Being—Yoga As a PsychoSpiritual Practice October 25th.
Register before the 24th and get a FREE audio download of a previously recorded 3-part teleclass with Judith on the Yoga Sutras; a $27 value.