What does it really take to be a (good) yoga teacher?
Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru devo Maheshwara,
Guru sakshat, param Brahma, tasmai shri guravay namah
Recently, I’ve been filled with doubt. Throughout my life, I’ve been filled with doubt. But recently I’ve been filled with doubt about my abilities to be a yoga teacher.
I guess it’s not so much my abilities to be a yoga teacher as much as my ability to have a thorough knowledge of yoga that I can effectively share with people both on and off the mat.
Let me be more specific. It’s easy to compare. Especially as a yoga teacher, there’s this weird pressure to be active on social media, to do certain poses, to wear certain things. In this realm, I often feel defeated and apathetic. I don’t like social media very much, poses are fun but I can’t be bothered to take pictures of them too often, and I can’t afford to buy a new yoga outfit every week. I see teachers create a following based on these qualities. Some of these teachers are probably great teachers and some are not. At times, I feel inferior to these teachers, like they have something I don’t. A lot of the time, I’m just glad I’m not the one trying to keep up with posting pictures of my butt and every fancy pose I know on Instagram.
So yeah, I compare myself to these “other” yoga teachers. In particular, skinny white women who have large Instagram followings. But, the thing is if I wanted to be one of these yoga teachers I could be, I could do the social media things, but I so strongly don’t want to and to do so would take away part of my soul. So I don’t, I leave that realm of yoga teaching up to them.
The doubt I have been facing does not come from these yoga teachers, the doubt I have comes from other yoga teachers. The yoga teachers that don’t have Instagrams. The yoga teachers who have been practicing longer than I’ve been alive. The doubt I have arises when I read the words of Richard Freeman, when I practice in the presence of my teacher, when I watch a an interview with Elena Brower or when I skim through the pages of Light on Yoga. This doubt is rooted in the idea that I am unworthy of being a teacher because of my supreme lack of knowledge.
They say that part of the path of spiritual practice is waking up to your own ignorance. Unless you are liberated or enlightened you will always have ignorance because liberation equals zero ignorance. Each time we become aware of our ignorance we get a chance to learn, we have the opportunity to advance as a student simply by inquiring. Gaining the knowledge of ignorance will often simultaneously lead to suffering and doubt. I know that ignorance is part of the path, I know that even the greatest teachers don’t know everything. Still I get up to teach sometimes and have the overwhelming sense that I don't know enough. I wish I had more to share, I wish my knowledge base was larger. I know enough to teach a class but I could know so much more.
I also know that teaching isn’t just about what you know (although it’s pretty damn important). Teaching is about compassion, observation, selflessness, vulnerability, the ability to walk and talk and adjust and think at the same time. These qualities are always a work in progress but I understand them. I believe I understand the basic human qualities and skills I need to teach a class and the act of teaching seems like something I get better with just by doing it.
At the end of the day, I want the knowledge to back up all these other qualities. I want to be able to fluidly integrate the yamas and niyamas into a class. I want students to understand why yoga is more than asana. I want students to know what poses are suppose to look like in their body. I want students to recognize the importance of breathe. I at least want to be able to communicate all of these things with my students in an hour and a half or less.
I feel the teachers I admire have grace in doing this, grace that I lack. They talk like yoga is the only thing they’ve ever known, like they walked out of the womb already knowing by heart all of the sutras and have never questioned the path of yoga since. I know this is untrue. I know all of my teachers have suffered, some of them greatly and more so than I can ever know. I know all of my teachers suffered and overcame it or didn’t and found yoga at some point or another and dedicated themselves to it. They too had teachers who they admired or still do. They too had doubts about their abilities as a teacher or a student. They too have studied the texts and the anatomy of the body for hours on end. They too are just students as I am.
Still, I feel the mountain of knowledge I have to conquer to be on the same level of this teachers is unsurmountable. This is what leads to my fear that I am not giving my students all the information they really need to progress on this path.
Even while writing this I know that my idea that I’m not good enough is at it’s core untrue. I've practiced a lot, I've trained a lot and I've taught a lot and I know I have created positive and even transformational experiences for people on their mat. I am part of long line of teachers who all started somewhere. My teachers have taught me and now it’s my turn to teach others. I will continue to be a student, just as my teachers have. I will continue to learn and grow and one day at a time conquer this mountain of knowledge while ebbing and flowing through life itself. I often forget that it’s my own personal experience of yoga that make me a good yoga teacher. I don’t need social media or Lululemon or 25 years of experience to teach. I can’t rush time, I can’t wake up tomorrow and have the experience of 25 years of practice or teaching. I can wake up each day curious and committed to practicing and learning. I can and will continue on this path for the sake of myself and the sake of my students.
My teacher, Stephanie Snyder, shared this with me during my first teacher training and I come back to it often.
To always view authority with suspicion, to believe it's unhealthy to ever submit to another, to see yourself as wholly independent, to believe you are completely free- this is delusion. And this delusion prevents true learning on the spiritual path. But neither can we place spiritual teachers on pedestals, imagining them saintly, finished, above the travails of our daily world. This delusion that the teacher is perfect arises out of the childish mind that still wants to be saved. But spiritual teachers aren't perfect; they too are ongoing processes. In fact, unless teachers continue to work at their own edge, with their own fears and difficulties, they can no longer be effective teachers, because they are no longer connected with others.