Monday, February 17, 2014

What Kind of Yoga Teacher Are You?

I'm not talking about Bikram or Hatha or Vinyasa or Viniyoga or Anusara or Kripalu or Ashtanga or Iyenger or any of the dozens of styles of yoga asana practice out there. I'm talking about what do you bring of yourself to your students when you teach?

One of the problems I see now that I've nearly completed my own teacher training course is that there are an awful lot of "become a yoga teacher in two weeks" courses out there.

No matter what they want you to believe, you simply cannot become a yoga teacher in two weeks. Hell, I've been studying intensely to become a yoga teacher over the last 5+ months, and one of the most important things that I've learned is that...I've got a hell of a lot more to learn about being a yoga teacher!

The most basic of foundations for becoming a yoga teacher is the practice of asana. That's what all 200-hour teacher trainings teach. But even then, I feel like there is so much to learn!

In the yoga teacher training I've been doing, we've been learning a lot about asana. We've written hundreds of index cards with details on how to talk students in and out of the poses, safely.

But we've also spent a great deal of time talking about the other seven limbs of yoga - because there's waaaaaaaay more to yoga than just the asanas, or poses, or postures.

There's the yamas and the niyamas; there's the practice of pranayama (breath control, which I talked about before); there's the practice of meditation, which is intimidating for a lot of students; there are the great ancient texts like Patanjali's yoga sutras and the Bhagavad Gita and all the Vedic texts. There's kirtan, the yoga of sound. There are things like karma yoga, and the chakras, the subtle energy systems in the body, the koshas; mudras, or hand gestures, that are used to enhance the practice of asana and meditation...

Do you see what I'm trying to get at here? That's a lot of material to be covered, and I can't see how someone can absorb it all in a 2-week "teacher training".

One of the things I've particularly enjoyed about this teacher training is that we only meet twice a month - once for a full weekend, and then again for one weekend day. In between sessions, I get the opportunity to really digest what I've learned, to find ways to integrate it into my daily life as well as my asana practice. I've had time to really sit with the material and think about it, write about it, analyze, explore it... And this is how I will bring it into my classes when I start leading yoga classes.

Unless you're going to take the time and really find a way to integrate the yoga teachings into your life, you may as well end up like this gal, who forked out a ton of money for a teacher training, and then discovered that the yoga life was not for her.

Lots of people probably find yoga relaxing and energizing. But that doesn't mean that they should be teachers.

Because next we come to the whole question of whether or not you are truly a teacher. Some people are natural teachers - it's just what comes easy for them. Being passionate about sharing what you know and being able to impart that information is a skill that not everyone has a talent for, let's face it. I've had some truly astoundingly bad teachers in my life (like the organic chemistry professor in college who left the entire class scratching their heads at how she came to her final numbers when working oxidation/reduction equations, because she decided to just do the calculations "in her head" and didn't think it was worth sharing with the rest of the class), and I've had some amazingly inspiring experiences under the guidance of a teacher (like my current yoga teacher at The Yoga Tree, who has a  profound gift for sharing her extensive knowledge of yoga practice and philosophy).

You can learn, to some degree, how to be a teacher. But if it's not in your blood, if it doesn't come naturally to you, you can actually do a lot more harm than good when teaching yoga. It takes a lot of practice to learn how to get students safely in AND out of a yoga pose. You want to minimize any risk of injury, and make sure that you stress that to your class. Remember, it's not YOUR journey - it's theirs.

So, as I'm nearing the end of my own teacher training and I start to plan out things like workshops and classes and think about ways to offer what I've learned to a whole new batch of yogis, I'm asking myself the question, every single day:

What kind of yoga teacher am I?

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