5 Things I Learned Apprenticing with Greg Nardi
Hello yogis! It's great to be back after a long hiatus. I am grateful for the loyal readers who’ve stuck with us and continue to read to this day—thank you!
What a busy summer it was for me! I was completing my yearlong apprenticeship with the wonderful Greg Nardi at Ashtanga Yoga Worldwide. The experience truly challenged me and I learned more than I could’ve imagined. Greg was the ideal mentor. When you’re a gifted teacher with more than two decades of experience, it’s no easy task to transmit even a fraction of your knowledge to a newbie like me. But Greg rose to the occasion with such patience and care. He was kind and compassionate, yet unafraid to challenge me. I experienced a lot of growth in a short amount of time, which was hard—but Greg supported me through it all. I could not have asked for more and I’m so thankful.
It would be impossible to write everything I learned from Greg during my apprenticeship… but here are some of my biggest takeaways:
1. Start at the Foundation. The very first assignment Greg gave me was to go through the Primary Series and list the foundation of each pose. It sounded like an easy task, but I definitely did not get all of them right. After teaching me a better understanding of the foundations, Greg showed me how to assess them with the students in the Mysore room. During practice, he directed my attention to my own foundations as well, many of which were rather shaky. It was humbling to have to take several steps back in my practice (which I’ve had to do MANY times), but so worth it in the long run.
Starting at the foundation is an excellent metaphor for almost every aspect of teaching. You cannot expect a brand-new student to grasp the subtleties of asana until they’re shown a sequence in which they can explore their body. You can’t perform advanced asanas safely until you are proficient with bandhas and breath. You can’t take a brand-new apprentice and teach them complicated adjustments. You have to start with a good foundation—if not, whatever you build will eventually crumble. Now I use this bit of wisdom in so many aspects of my life—relationships, business endeavors, creative projects, etc.
2. All Teaching Happens in Relationship. Coming from Bikram yoga, where we mostly taught from a script, there were few chances to foster student-teacher relationships during class. In a Mysore room, however, there’s ample opportunity for it during one-on-one instruction. Building trust and respect between teacher and student is critical to the growth process. Greg taught me to develop this relationship slowly and mindfully. He also taught me the importance of getting to know each student beyond their physical capabilities: their motivations for practicing, their background, personality, life circumstances, etc.
Never in my life have I been to a yoga studio where the teachers exhibit such genuine care for their students as Ashtanga Yoga Worldwide. They routinely showed a strong desire to know each person deeply. That left a lasting impression on me. Though I used to keep students at a distance, I am now inspired to get to know each of them beyond the surface, and that has made me a far better teacher.
3. Teach to the Individual. No two people are the same, so the way each person is taught shouldn’t be the same either. We all have different body types, strengths, weaknesses, and reasons for practicing. Some of us are auditory learners while others of us are visual or tactile. Some of us need gentle encouragement while others require strong command. Some of us need to move faster while others of us need to slow down. Furthermore, our needs change on a day-to-day or even minute-by-minute basis. I learned that a good teacher takes the time to understand each student’s needs and tailors a long-term, individualized plan for their progress.
If we extend this concept to the other people in our lives and take time to understand each of them on a deep level, we can figure out the most effective ways to communicate. And just like in the classroom, relationships grow stronger, more enjoyable and more secure as a result.
4. You can be kind and firm at the same time. The learning process is never smooth or linear. There were many times I struggled or made mistakes while learning to teach. Greg had an amazing way of correcting me with such equanimity and good intention that I often didn’t even recognize I was being corrected until later! But the point is that when you’re teaching someone, you have to be willing to correct them when they misstep. But it’s entirely possible to do so in an encouraging way that conveys mistake-making is allowed.
I think this type of equanimity is something we can cultivate from practicing yoga; it is closely related to the concept of non-attachment. If you can see that another’s journey—missteps and all—is no reflection of your own, you’re in a place to create a safe environment for the often messy process of growth.
5. What it means to hold space. Most of all, I learned it’s so humbling to hold space for the personal growth experiences happening in the yoga room. I learned it requires getting my ego out of the way so the process becomes all about the students instead of my own motives. Sometimes a student needs extra attention, and sometimes they need space. Sometimes what they want is not actually what would help them the most. To me, becoming a great teacher means developing this discernment.
These are some of the most important lessons I learned from Greg. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to apprentice with him and be a part of the beautiful community at his shala. Because now that I'm learning more about what it takes to be a great teacher, I'm learning to be an even better person as well.