I have just qualified as a yoga teacher and I have been questioning a few things about my burgeoning career. Two of the key questions are: what is my responsibility as a yoga teacher? And what are the pitfalls to watch for in teaching yoga? Sharon Lopa, via email
Once you make the decision to become a teacher, you now have a responsibility to your students. This responsibility starts with your own dedicated atma-vichara, or self-introspection, which continuously enlightens you and your students. I do not mean having a commitment to an asana practice, but having a passion for freedom, and an understanding of the deeper significance of yoga, using the tools that yoga provides to live a yogic lifestyle to the best of your ability.
As the sage Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras: “Yoga is concerned with freedom from suffering. The first step is to engage in self-introspection and thereby understand the inner obstacles that can be overcome. The purpose of yogic tools is to weaken the hindrances which obstruct freedom of the soul.”
Such a commitment may sound serious, or lofty, but this is what it takes to begin to be of service to others. One needs to be of service to oneself first; this is self-love.
Yoga is a moment-to-moment practice that takes an ever present awareness in every aspect of one’s existence; observance of your actions, thoughts and feelings, reactions, agendas and motivations—the constant fluctuations of the mind. It requires authenticity, courage, strength and compassion. This is not a practice of being obsessive on these matters and over-analysing, but simply being present to what is, bringing awareness and acknowledgement to the various aspects of your mind without judgement, or involvement, to then move forward with greater wisdom.
Time and time again, I see students that graduate to teachers and quite quickly lose their own practice. They take on too many classes and their own practice goes out the window. One’s sadhana is precious, sacred time.
I always ask my students, “Has yoga changed you? Does it continue to transform you?” If not, then it may be time to evaluate how and what you are practising. Evolution from one’s practice is essential. This responsibility is knowing what practice is most beneficial for you. What will be of greatest service to you will be determined by how and what you practice in relationship to your individual needs—physical, mental and emotional. This itself can take years to refine, as the practice of yoga helps to unveil this knowledge. The timeframe is different for all—this education is a changing and continuous process, which is also why it is important to have some years of practice behind you before you take on the role of teaching. If you do not gain a certain amount of self-knowledge through your own experience, in your own practice, it is difficult to tune in to your students’ individual needs.
When I talk about responsibility, I do not mean this in a heavy way, but I mean it in a conscious, awake way. We are all at different levels of development and can only do what we are capable of, but having a responsible intention is a good beginning. We want to teach from our experience and example.
It is a blessing to teach, as it puts us in a position that requires even more vigilance in our living of yoga. Teaching constantly reveals our own shadow, making us aware of our own agendas, reactions and egoic propensities. By teaching the wisdom of yoga to our students, we have the great fortune to be constantly reminded of this precious philosophy every day.
Louisa Sear is director of Yoga Arts in Byron Bay. She teaches a combination of vinyasa asana, meditation, pranayama and philosophy. She offers teacher training and retreats in Australia, Bali, Sri Lanka and India. Visit yogarts.com.au.