At our recent forum discussion in NYC we talked about yoga teachers taking things a bit too far in their lectures. We discussed some root causes of this and how to remedy it.
Unlike Pilates, which was developed as a regime for physical health, yoga evolved as primarily as spiritual and psychological development. So we have this confusion because most yoga teachers are not trained as spiritual leaders, and we have some odd perceptions of what a yoga teacher should sound like, so what happens–especially with newer teachers–is the teaching comes across as artificial.
Yoga also has a paternalistic and authoritarian past whereby some lineages the yogis accepted the guru’s teachings without question and when it came to the west, this absolute acceptance of what the teacher says was heightened by the reality that many yoga teachers have very little training in philosophy. We also see the other issue that teachers speak to their students with absolute authority and comport themselves as the expert with little more to go on than that’s what their teacher told them.
While it’s important to respect your elders, your teacher, and your teaching lineage, it’s also important to think for yourself.
First and foremost, teachers need to dig deeper and not just accept what their teacher taught them as absolute gospel. We need to go to the source texts, read for ourselves, read other philosophical works, and spend a great deal of time meditating, pondering, and contemplating these teachings ourselves. (Regarding the physical pose practice we absolutely need to stay current with exercise science research but that’s another discussion).
We need to practice truthfulness and tell our students that what we teach them is our interpretation, our viewpoint, and tell them it’s based upon what we’ve read and what we’ve heard. We need to then open the door that students should think about these points for themselves and should study further. I believe spirituality does belong in a yoga class setting, but it can be done in a very open way by giving students one thing to ponder for themselves, and not as a heavy-handed lecture. Also, some studios have yoga study groups which is an excellent way to bridge this gap.
Another issue that plagues teaching is that new teachers can struggle to find their voice. We have a perception in Western yoga that the teacher needs to be airy, poetic, etc. and new teachers try to live up to these images and what we see in the classroom is teachers pontificating about fairies or describing every pose as a beautiful lotus blossom blooming out of your heart. Students are smart, and they can spot insincerity a mile away.
New teachers especially should teach what they know, teach from the heart and from what they believe. New teachers need to do the work to cultivate the joy in their own practice, and if you teach from that place–a place of joy and a place of honesty–students will respond.
It’s daunting to think about and confidence is difficult, especially in areas where yoga seems highly competitive and some students walk out if their favorite teacher is missing regardless who is covering the class, but if you work hard on your own views and interpretations of philosophy, and if you work hard on your own yoga practice–your joy will carry over into your classes. You won’t need artificial poetry–though it comes quite naturally to some and that is their honest voice–all you will need is your honesty and your intention of helping students find their internal joy.
Trust in yourself, trust in your practice, and leave the rest at the door.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ― Oscar Wilde