teaching people, not poses: a conversation with jay fields

teaching-people-not-poses-homeJay Fields isn’t afraid to confront the grace and grit of both teaching yoga and living life. She digs into these subjects regularly on her blog, Grace and Grit. In her new book, Teaching People, Not Poses: 12 Principles for Teaching Yoga with Integrity, she explores how to find expertise and vulnerability as a yoga teacher.

The slim self-published volume outlines 12 ways that yoga teachers can bring their full selves into their teaching practice and reflect on why they’re teaching yoga in the first place. The principles embody wisdom (“Don’t take it all so seriously”), humility (“If you don’t know, say you don’t know”), honesty (“Remember that your students are people”), and pragmatism (“Learn anatomy”).

Each principle gets its own chapter, with examples from Fields’ 14 years of yoga teaching experience and outside-the-yoga-studio learning. After outlining the principle, Fields offers reflection questions to take it deeper.

Jay Fields and I had a long Skype conversation about the book, the paradox of self-promotion, and the crucial difference between ‘integrity’ and the overused idea of ‘authenticity.’ Here are some of the gems from our talk.

IAYB: When I was reading Teaching People, Not Poses, it struck me as the perfect companion to Donna Farhi’s Teaching Yoga. But whereas Farhi’s book focused on the teacher-student relationship, you focus on the teacher’s relationship with self.

JF: Thanks, that’s a real compliment. Sometimes I think the yoga teaching world can get so caught up in the question, “How do I help others?” that we forget that the original question is, “How do I be me in a way that’s real?”

IAYB: I think there’s a lot of pressure on yoga teachers to be a certain way. They aren’t just teachers – they’re fashion models, brand ambassadors, entrepreneurs. In my community, I see many young teachers who are so focused on self-promotion and developing their personal brands that they seemed to have lost touch with the art of teaching. Or the art of just being real. What do you think is missing?

JF: I think there’s a dearth of understanding of how to reflect on why you’re teaching. The desire to go out and do the self-promotion can perhaps come from a place of teaching to take away your pain. That’s what’s so scary about teaching – you want people to like you.

IAYB: Where did the idea for the 12 principles come from?

JF: The whole idea of talking about my experience as a teacher came two years ago, after I was in a rollover car accident. I felt like I’m doing what I want to be doing, but something was missing. I wanted to speak to the part of teaching that’s juicy for me – the part that’s about the personal growth. I hoped to share that with my students so they could find their own version of that. I started writing the principles as blog posts, then I followed up on them, going deeper, because people were asking questions. I realized I could compile them into something, and people were like, why don’t you make a book. I actually didn’t think I had enough material for a book. But people don’t necessarily like reading things online. I edited the posts to make them less bloggy, without hyperlinks or time specificity.


The 12 principles for teaching yoga with integrity.

IAYB: If you were to apply any of the 12 principles to writing and self-publishing a book, which is most applicable?

JF: “Be yourself” is almost always the top answer. Without that, everything else is false. But in regards to the actual writing of the book, speaking from your own experiences [#4, “Teach from your own experience”] is the most important. I think about books that I read, and unless there’s some personal voice in there, some story that comes from someone’s heart, I don’t really stay involved with them. One of the best things about self-publishing is that you can say whatever the fuck you want. For better or worse. If you’re not out there to get a publisher to buy into what you’re saying, you can easily speak from your experience and be yourself.

IAYB: What would you say is at the heart of this book and your teaching practice?

JF: My passion and purpose in my work is to find more integrity. Be willing to be vulnerable. The talk about integrity is one more facet of the talk about vulnerability. I really do see the need in myself and in my colleagues for some form of ongoing dialogue and support. I’m really totally jazzed to be one of the people out there offering that. I’m coming to this whole book and project with excitement and humility that I’m still in it. I’m just really wanting to make sure that the people who are looking for this, the people who came into teaching because they wanted it to be a practice, that they know that they’re not alone. There are people out there who aren’t happy with the commodification of yoga. We just need more and more platforms for people who can really speak to the part of it that has integrity.

IAYB: The book is really a call for integrity – not only on an individual level, but it asks for integrity from the industry, the profession of yoga. Integrity is something that’s not really talked about. There’s lots of talk about authenticity, but sometimes the idea of authenticity is also totally fake.

JF: Especially in the yoga community. There is a narrow definition of authenticity, and anything outside of this bandwith is not authentic. But what if I’m authentically pissed? Somehow, that doesn’t fit with authenticity, if it’s defined in the yoga world as being full of light and love. But that’s bullshit sometimes. Integrity, rather than authenticity, has more of a sense of alignment. For example, to have integrity in a posture is to support the truth of your shape. If the truth of your shape is not within the yoga world’s bandwith, it doesn’t mean you’re not authentic.

IAYB: Why do you think there is a reluctance to talk openly and honestly about integrity?

JF: Integrity is a messy concept. It asks people to reveal more of themselves than they usually like to reveal. The more you’re in integrity, the easier everything is, ultimately, and the less harm you’re doing. I just think it’s a really juicy concept and it scares the shit out of me. I’ve signed on to say, this is what’s important to me. That’s the scariest thing about this book for me. I feel that everyone is going to be super nitpicky, asking “Is she really going to be herself?” The thing is, I’m gonna fuck up. I’m gonna. For me to put it out there that this is something that’s important to me, and to still be learning – I’m going to do something and people will think, god that’s so righteous, or whatever. That’s what scares me.

Get the book here.
Go deeper into the principles in Fields’ 12-part teleseries based on the book. Starting June 11, 2013.

  1. Thanks again, Roseanne, for taking the time to ready my book, interview me and share it here. I really enjoyed our conversation!

    • my pleasure, jay! it was a great conversation. looking forward to seeing more of your work!

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