Yoga is an expansive discipline, and there are many different avenues and certifications one may choose to study it. There are many branches one may learn about and each of these has interwoven yet distinct philosophies, sacred texts, exercises. While there are a set of common postures, going about them in an Iyengar class will be different than approaching it through Vinyasa. Taking a hot sweaty core power class will engage a completely different student than a yin meditative class. As I learn more and more about yoga, sometimes it is hard to pinpoint what it is, until you go back to the first Sutras:
Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind, and with stillness of the mind you come to your own true nature.
Maybe you go about this through an intense asana practice. Or maybe asana simply keeps your limbs flexible and body strong as you go about the rest of your life. Or the physical healing aspects of yoga therapy have moved you through an injury or any type of deep healing. Maybe you love the chanting, the mantra, the kirtan. Perhaps stoking the Kundalini fire is what you love to experience. Or Tantra. Or Bhakti. Whatever it is, with all of the positive results from yoga (I’ve been reading The Science of Yoga by William J Broad lately and it’s been fascinating to be presented with a synthesis that whets the left/sciency side of my brain), both in the mind and body, whatever form someone is drawn to, it seems like a good thing.
Arriving at a place to teach yoga from the heart, from the spirit, and with a depth of knowledge requires a concrete refinement of one’s own practice, which cannot be received through a 200, 300, or 500 hour certificate alone.
When I completed my yoga teacher trainings (200-hour Prana Vinyasa with Monica Mesa and Lily Russo; 300-hour in Rishikesh, India, with a composite of teachers at Chandra Yoga Ashram), they were transformative experiences. And truly, my journey towards teaching was about wanting to deepen my own practice. I only found out that I enjoyed teaching because I was required to through the class. But then… how do I really feel like a teacher?
At what point do I transform from someone who has simply completed some requirements, to someone who can handle all of the nuances in order to competently compose a class, cater to who shows up, offer something new and/or rewarding, understand individual body nuances and guide others into their deepest asana, integrate meditation, introduce philosophy in an authentic and uncanned presentation?
Dangit I can’t even get into Pincha Mayurasana without assistance! –am I a real teacher if I can’t Instagram some fancy poses? (I joke.) I think several other classmates echoed these same questions upon finishing our coursework. What differentiates someone as a yoga teacher, from someone who completes a teacher training?
My immersive course in India was completed about 13 months ago. It rocked my world, in so many ways, and continues to as each day I reflect upon the world differently. It is as if now I have a roadmap for life and for navigating obstacles. The challenges still come; they are like lessons, reflections to myself of myself. I see my flaws and pick myself up to try to go at it again. Sometimes I fail – we all do – and sometimes it hurts and sometimes it sucks. But overall the perspective and mindset shift that was initiated has started to snowball into larger change.
In the last year my practice has transformed, too. And through that, my teaching has transformed. It has become more confident, just as my understanding of the Sutras and of asana has deepened through daily practice. It has become more healing, just as I’ve learned to heal my sometimes sad spirit and learn forgiveness and acceptance to my body and mind. It has strengthened and been challenging, just as I’ve adopted a more rigorous practice. And it has become more loving, as my own self-love has blossomed and spilled out into friendships, relationships, and the world.
When I first started teaching, one thing that motivated me was that it kept my own practice strong. At that point I still was working towards making it habit to do yoga every day. In my first YTT, Monica had a lot of emphasis to teach authentically and to make sure to do your own practice for self care before your offerings to students: you can’t teach if you haven’t developed what you are going to give. Life just had this way of always getting in the way of doing a morning asana practice; it was easy to put off meditation and sleep in a few extra minutes instead. When I had a class scheduled, I made sure to strengthen my practice, even spending days to put together what I thought would be a good sequence or theme.
As my growth as a teacher unfolds, I find that I teach because I really feel I do have something to offer. My daily practice has grown and is reflected in my alignment and deepening in postures; in that what feels like an advanced posture has shifted over the last couple years. By using yoga in working through my own struggles, I’ve learned a thing or two and that it can be explored or released together in asana or meditation. Not that I’m perfect, or any better than anyone else. But that by sharing what I do have, hopefully I can help someone else out of a funk in their day or their week, relax their muscles, help them come into an arm balance for the first time, share a smile or some laughter: to be in this space together that is expansive, sharing gratitude that we get to live this world through all of the different stories that create our experiences, that we get to learn whatever our journeys are presenting.
What a blessing it is, to be able to share yoga with people – to not be on a righteous path with it, but to be able to share guidance on getting through this world with greater ease, more joy, love that can’t be contained, and maintaining a youthful, supple body to support it all! I’m grateful to teach, and to learn from all of the other teachers I encounter – in all walks of life.
May all beings be happy and free.