Class Notes, Week 61: Apprenticing with Gabriel Halpern

The Moksha yoga teacher training program requires me to journal once each week about my experience with the poses and assignments + my practice and progress. This is part of that weekly assignment.

Technically, I’m done with my requirements for the Moksha’s 200-hour teacher training … but the learning never-ever-never-ever-never-ever stops.

During this month of November, the first month of my media career sabbatical, I’ve been apprenticing with Gabriel Halpern at Yoga Circle.  I assist on Tuesday afternoons in the Gentle Yoga class, immediately following his two-hour morning yoga class.  (The morning class is a great learning experience, as well.  It’s mostly yoga teachers from all around Chicagoland.  I am exposed to personalities and styles outside of the Moksha community, which is refreshing and simultaneously expanding my yoga community.)

Gabriel has been described as the “grandfather” of the Chicago yoga scene.  I find this label funny.  He’s certainly respected.  No doubt about that.  While a lot of yoga teachers are “respected” and have wonderful things to offer, it doesn’t mean that I am deeply inspired by them and feel that my yoga practice and teaching can move forward under their tutelage and tough love.  I am constantly learning from Gabriel — even when I’m being humbled, which happens quite a bit!

It’s wonderful to be applying the yoga skills I learned during his spring yoga therapeutics apprenticeship to work in this setting.  It feels less like a “class” and more like … real-world work, in the vocational sense of things.  I’ve worked one-on-one with a dancer experiencing back problems and an office worker with upper back issues.  Who knows what case studies the next few weeks will bring.  I am fascinated with how yoga postures and a little bit of emotional TLC can help individuals in pain.  It feels good to focus energy on that mission, just for the two hours I am assigned to the student.

Gabriel zips around the studio overseeing how the apprentices are assisting the students, often correcting them in a fatherly way — which has provided some great teaching moments for me.  (Again, back to that humility theme.)  But what inspires me above all else is the question he always asks his students: “How do you feel?”  That is priority numero uno.  Gabriel wants to know if they feel relieved, even minutely, of their pain.  That question also lets the students know that somebody cares about them.  His question is genuine: “How do you feel?”  He doesn’t ask it and move on to the next thing, which seems to be the norm in society today.  Gabriel looks the students in the eyes and waits for an answer.

Of all the alignment take-aways, complex use of props to assist in poses, technicalities of the anatomy, this compassionate emphasis on the student trumps everything else I’m learning.  Because if genuine compassion isn’t there, then is the yoga teaching really and truly authentic?

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