As I reflect back upon my teaching career, I am reminded of a few practical, yet powerful, methods that have and continue to cultivate sustainability and longevity along my pathway. There are three distinct methods that stand out. They are service, connection, and self-study. These are defining points - places to start, and places to reference during seasons of refinement along the way. Whether or not you embark on a yoga teacher training experience with intentions to teach regularly, you are always going to be “teaching” something to someone throughout your life. The three methods high- lighted below extend beyond the yoga teaching pathway and are broad enough to inspire and create sustainability and longevity within any pathway one chooses to pursue in life.
1. Path of Service
Let’s start with defining and knowing your role as a teacher. I like to call this getting clear on the why. When the why is clear the how unfolds and the pathway takes you in an intentional direction. Nothing is random, spending time in contemplation to answer the question why, invites us into an intuitive and authentic place for guidance. In this space, we can find structure towards the development of a plan around the teaching opportunities that we will pursue or create. Over my years of teaching, I have revisited this question many times. For me, teaching has always been a pathway of service - service to my community, offering the practice and making it accessible to as many people as possible. I’ve also found the fulfillment of service in encouraging and growing alongside other yoga teachers on this path. From this clarity found in the inquiry of the why, I have been able to create classes, workshops, teacher development mentorships and training experiences that all stem from this clear answer. As a result, sustainability is produced in how I pursue the teaching opportunities along my path. Even within recent months, I have spent time re-evaluating and asking myself this question again - reflecting and listening inwardly, aligning into my definition, once again, to understand “why” I am teaching. It’s from this clear knowing that I find sustainability to continue to serve students and fellow yoga teachers, inviting them into an experience that cultivates their own exploring and understanding of who they are and why they do what they do.
2. Choose Connection
Some define the practice of yoga as union. I have found that the practice has the ability to reveal this union in the form of connection. Connection for the individual and connection to the community. As teachers of the practice, creating connection with our students builds community. Creating community and connection seems pretty simple and logical as a factor towards sustainability and longevity. Within the simplicity though, I have seen the opposite transpire within my local community and the greater community of yoga. As teachers, I believe, we are responsible for the evaluation of whether we are creating connection or separation. Creating community means that we are willing to meet people where they are and not dictate our view of how this practice should look or represent itself in the lives of others. We have a great opportunity, in how and what we teach, to cultivate an inclusive, empowering felt-sense experience through this ongoing evaluation of how we are being with each other and ourselves, void of exclusivity.
People come to the practice of yoga for a variety of reasons. Making the practice assessable and available is important for connection and community to thrive. Sometimes the biggest challenge is just to begin. It takes great courage to begin the practice and, as teachers, it is our responsibility to partner in creating a safe space that supports curiosity and exploration, along with solid foundational teachings of alignment and safety within the exploration. This will create trust within our students, and inspiration for the individual to embark on their own unique journey toward growth and transformation. From understanding and continued education, yoga teachers are able to support the personal transformation of our students, apart from qualities of separation, that can be cultivated when the practice is dictated as only a set method, experience or style.
Our language, approachability and skillfulness in how we teach gives way to the “success” of each practitioner within the landscape of our classes. Trust will be cultivated and supported if we, as teachers, remain faithful students to the practice first. We must be careful that we aren’t asking our students to commit or pursue the work that we ourselves, aren’t willing to commit to. Understanding how growth and transformation takes place within ourselves, is valuable in our ability to draw others to connect to the transformation experiences found within the yoga practice. As we create connection, seeking to understand, we hold a space for growth and expansion for the practitioner. The yoga mat and class setting is a wonderful space for this connection to grow and be sustained.
3. Pursuit of self-study
“Teach what you need to learn” has stuck with me since my 200 hour yoga teacher training experience. As individuals and teachers, it can be easy to see others excel within a role and want to define or mold ourselves to be that person or be like them. These pursuits, in reality, hold us back from sharing the gift of being ourselves. It is beneficial to find and acknowledge our own unique methods of learn and applying knowledge; understanding that as we learn and apply our knowledge it will become wisdom. When we teach and share from this place of applied knowledge, we inspire others to explore and expand into the genuine space of sharing and giving of who they are. From this place of continued learning as a student, we as teachers, can then teach from a place of authenticity. Our authenticity will invite our students to partner and pursue their inner passions to grow in the practice authentically, as well. Educating ourselves on all aspects of the practice - physical, mental and emotional - will afford us greater opportunity to meet and support our students where they are. There’s the connection piece showing up again.
I was reminded recently, as I had a conversation with a new yoga teacher, that teaching is a journey and we will never fully know everything there is to know about the practice; we’ll never arrive, so to speak. How refreshing that was to reflect upon. It isn’t about me knowing everything, instead, it’s about whether I’m putting the knowledge I acquire into action or am I just piling on knowledge, for knowledge sake, because I think it’s what I’m suppose to do as a teacher. It lightens the unsettling load of perfection that creeps in from time to time; the heavy burden of feeling like we can’t share or teach unless we first know it all. Oftentimes, this fear of not “knowing it all” can paralyze us from stepping out, in faith, and trusting that we do know enough, for now, and enough to share with others. I am also reminded, by one of my teachers, that in order to become a “better” teacher, I must teach. From teaching, we learn, and in real-time we have opportunity to refine and grow from each experience. From these real-time experiences, we gain wisdom, and we can be inspired to learn and study more; from this self-study, we teach what we need to learn and the cycle continues.
Here I am, almost two decades since I began teaching, and I have just completed my second 500 hour yoga teacher training with Yoga Medicine. I find myself excited as to where my teaching journey will lead me next. I continue to find inspiration on my yoga mat and meditation cushion - seeking knowledge as a student first, with curiosity, and exploring with faith, a practice that continues to unfold and reveal opportunities along the way. From this inspiration, I am fueled and nourished to continue to serve; living into the answer of my why. I can testify to it all being a most worthy endeavor to embark upon, the path of service as a yoga teacher. My hope is that others find inspiration and fuel to guide them along this path, as a student and teacher, finding sustainability and longevity for a lifetime of learning and practice.
Finally, I am reminded of this quote by Marianne Williamson,
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us." We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?