This past weekend I have certified another group of yoga teachers. This particular group was easy to teach and a strong group from the start. They were very curious, inquisitive, and eager to learn. They all did really well both on written exam as well as teaching a class as a final exam. Now they are ready to spread the knowledge of yoga my colleagues and I have tried to gift them with this past year.
Signing that yoga teacher certificate is not always an easy task. Not only because you don’t often get a group like this and sometimes have to certify someone who has just barely passed their exams and was generally not very interested during the course. That particular uninterested student may just need more time and inspiration and given that time will become a good teacher.
Something else bothers me more. There are no final exams of being a good yogi which is, I believe, a prerequisite of being a good teacher. Meaning one that is truthful and authentic human being. How do we teach that and is that our role as teacher trainers in the first place?
We teach anatomy, subtle anatomy, alignment, history, how to sequence etc. and prepare our students to teach a safe, mindful class. That is an easier part. Teaching them ethics and how to be good yogis is a harder part and for some a waste of time as that’s not what they came to you for. Days of gurus are long gone and all some teacher trainees want to learn are how to teach a certain sequence, how to get into an asana, how to adjust a student etc. Some students and yoga practicioners today are mostly interested in the physical aspect of yoga (which is only a drop in the ocean) and this creates asana obsessed global yoga community that we can see happening now. A trend that we should all start changing as soon as possible as it distorts a true meaning of yoga. As a teacher trainer, is there something we can do? I believe we can and should.
If this world was not all backwards, no one should embark on a journey to becoming a yoga teacher without being an authentic, truthful, good human being and no one should definitely ever train teachers without being a yogi first - one that lives yoga and follows certain principles. And as a teacher you need to be an example and walk the talk.
But, what are these principles we are talking about? We all know really as there are deeply rooted in different traditions. As yogis, we need not look further than yamas and niyamas.
Niyamas, often called self-observances are a great reminder of how we should approach our selves and our spiritual practice. I love how, in her book ‘Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit’, Donna Farhi calls Niyamas – codes for living soulfully. They in fact are our soul food and, to me, principles of self love. Purity of body, mind and soul (Shaucha), contentment (Santosha), disciplined use of one’s own energy (Tapas), feeding the mind and soul with learning the sacred truths (Swadhyaya), celebration of the Divine and surrender to the Divine (Ishvara pranidhana) – aren’t those principles ways to self love, truth, light?
Yamas teach us how to be conscious human beings in dealing with other beings. As niyamas are a reminder how to approach ones own spiritual path, yamas can serve as a set of rules for every yoga teacher – as a reminder of the true teachings of yoga. Following these rules are what makes us a good human being - and a good yoga teacher.
So, at the end of this particular journey together, the following is what I tried to teach my my students.
1. Practice Ahimsa. Be a gentle, compassionate teacher. Every person is different, every body is different. We all have different needs and will take different paths towards our goal. Understand and respect that. Yoga is a spiritual path, not a path to an advanced asana. Reminding your students of this Truth will be much more beneficial to them than teaching them any advanced asana. Would world be a better place if we could all ease into Kapotasana? Or stand on our hands? Of course not.
Yoga is a healing art. Don’t injure people - there is too much injury happening in today's postural yoga as it is. Don't stand on people (as in those ridiculous adjustments) or use strong adjustments so the student would get somewhere faster. Would you throw someone out of the 5th floor window so they get to the ground floor faster? No? So, why would you push someone into something that they are not ready for? A tree takes its time to grow. Some grow faster, some slower. These are the laws of nature.
Harming someone is not yoga. Be a gentle, understanding teacher.
2. Practice Satya always. Be a truthful teacher. If there is something you don’t know it is much better to say so than to lie. There is so much we still don't know and it is such a joy learning something new every day. Nobody expects you to know everything and you shouldn't expect this from others or yourself.
Teach only what you have learned, practiced and embodied as your Truth. If you haven't practiced and fully experienced a sequence, pranayama etc., don't teach it.
One day you may be a famous yoga teacher and you may want to, like so many do today, adjust your CV or your bio just a little bit. Add a few years here, a few there… Say on your biography that you have actually started practicing in your mothers belly already as she took some classes when she was pregnant with you:). This happens a lot and it's silly. There are always those who witnessed your beginnings and know the truth. Truth can not be adjusted. This does not serve anyone. It does not serve you as a teacher, and certainly not your students. These truth adjustments might be ‘normal’ in a world of business and PR, but they do not belong on the path of Yoga. Lead by the example and speak the truth – always.
3. Practice Asteya. You have learned and you will learn a lot from many different teachers, students, lineages… Never stop learning. There will come a time when you think you know everything. This is when you start to embody the teachings and you get all excited. Don't let it get to your head. You will never know everything. In fact, you will know you know much when you start understand how little you know :).
You will find your own way of teaching, inspired by your teachers and the teachings. Always name your tradition, source and show respect to your teachers. If you don’t, how can you expect your students to respect you? Not naming your source and your teachers is not yogic and will not serve anyone but your Ego. Taking an idea or a concept without saying where it came from is wrong in so many ways. Don’t feed your Ego.
Don't give yourself titles you are not entitled to. We all know what that means. You wouldn't call yourself a doctor if you haven't gone to medical school. Same applies in yoga.
Be humble, be respectful, be a yogi.
4. Practice Brahmacharya. Use your creative energy to create something good, not only for your own advancement but for your students and your community too. Don’t waste it on Ego desires. Ego likes power, manipulation, gossip etc. and it takes so much energy for all that. Don’t waste your energy on nonmeaningful acts. Use it to create beautiful and meaningful things.
5. Practice Aparigraha. Don’t hold on to ideas of right and wrong. Don’t think that your practice is The practice, that your yoga style is The style, your teacher is The teacher. There is no ‘better’ or 'more traditional’ way of doing anything. There is only A way for you or that particular person in that particular moment of time. The more you grow and the more you learn so do your ideas, your practice, your teaching. If they don’t it means you have not learned from yesterday and you are still stuck in the past. No great teacher is stuck in the past. Always question everything and be grateful when your students question you. Nothing is ever certain so do not hold on to ideas - practice detachment.
And last, but not the least - practice Karma yoga. I believe that every yoga teacher should follow the path of Karma yoga as well. Offer free classes, organize karma events, do whatever you can to help and heal your community.
I was so happy when my students, instead of buying me a present at the end of the year, decided to give me that money to donate to a dog shelter we have helped as a group during our Karma yoga project. That really warmed my heart and I realized they did hear me:).
I know my students heard me and I hope some of you, new or old teachers will benefit from these words. We need more truth and authenticity out there, not only in the yoga world, but the world in general.