Reflections Of A Master Teacher

In our bi-weekly "Reflections of a Master Teacher" series, YogaCity NYC interviews living legends. This week, Kathleen Kraft talks to Amy Matthews who has been teaching movement since 1994.

Co-leader of The Breathing Project with Leslie Kaminoff, a Laban Movement Analyst, a

Body-Mind Centering teacher, and an Infant Developmental Movement Educator, Matthews’s name is synonymous with movement teaching in New York City. She has taught embodied anatomy workshops all over the world.

When asked about the process of studying with Matthews, long-time student and Alexander Technique teacher, Judith Feldman said, “After her classes, I feel mysteriously enlightened. Later, I see changes in my body, my relationship to self and to my movements through space. Amy's classes have helped me make discoveries and play with alterations, and have given me new choices in perception.”

Kathleen Kraft: What does your yoga practice look like every day?

Amy Matthews: Ideally, every day includes some movement time on my (sometimes imaginary) mat—I love when it’s an hour or so, but some days it’s 10 minutes. Whether I get on my mat or not, I spend time every day settling into my spine and my bones in general, for the sense of stillness I find there, and an inkling of presence.

I try most days to also take an asana class at various studios in the city. For me, it’s interesting to observe what only happens when I’m in my own practice, and what only happens when I’m in someone else’s class (on all kinds of psychophysical levels). Part of my yoga practice is teaching, and I learn yet more about individuality, interdependence, and context in that experience.

I am also very lucky to have conversations almost every day with friends and fellow teachers (of dance, yoga, and Body-Mind Centering). These conversations are part of my yoga practice—of course every conversation is, in its way. But these conversations touch on things that I care so deeply about that I am constantly engaged in understanding more clearly what I want to say and how I want to be in the world.

KK: What are the most important qualities of the student/teacher relationship?

AM: There are probably many deeply "true" answers to this question, and those many answers all intersect somewhere. For me, these days, I’m very interested in the qualities of listening, witnessing, and presence that a teacher can offer a student, and that a student can offer herself.

I’ve been working with infants since 2008, and they have taught me a tremendous amount about how to balance the value of words and information with presence and timing—an infant doesn't care if I know a lot of random facts or can say fancy words. The infant responds when I am present and engaged and in relationship. Working with them has shown me that all the stuff I know isn't the most important thing I can offer.

KK: Which yoga sutra guides you?

AM: These days, it’s 1.7: pratyakasha anumana agamah pramanani. Translated as something like "accurate knowledge" arises from three sources: 1. Direct perception or experience. 2. Inference or deduction., and 3. Outside authority, legacy, reliable sources. I believe direct experience is undervalued in the process of learning. As students, we let what we are "supposed to be feeling" override what our own experience is. For me, this is deeply problematic and a profound flaw in the model of teaching currently in play in all kinds of educational settings, from school classrooms to yoga studios.

Sometimes our direct experience definitely needs to be balanced out or expanded on by the information that comes from deduction, outside observation, existing theories, past experiences, etc. But these sources of knowledge should not erase the direct experience. Can we instead find where experience, deduction, and reliable sources intersect? I believe that is where learning is most possible.

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