Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What does it mean to you to teach?

I was asked this question by a teacher trainee, who was participating in a training program which irresponsibly claims to advance students to "masters."  [Aside--I have said many, many times before: if you meet anyone who they themselves claim to be a master, or who claims that they will make you a master (if your check clears), turn and move in the opposite direction at the highest possible rate of speed.]

My answer was quite simple, and obviously not what this person wanted to hear: PRACTICE.

When we lead a yoga practice, it is our jobs to cultivate the seeds of practice in our students.  We should want our students to take something from the class and practice it at home--in short, our goal is to help students cultivate the discipline of practice in their own lives.  We cannot do this if we ourselves have not cultivated the discipline we are expecting of our students.

On the surface, if we teach asana, then we need to have a steady home asana practice.  Read again: steady home asana practice.  Great to go to classes, but discipline comes from figuring out how to motivate ourselves to get our sorry butts on our mats.  When no one is there to do it for us.  When no one is there to take control and tell us what to do or offer praise or correction. Until we take charge of our own practice, we have no business teaching others.

Remember, teachers, that asana is only a fraction of yoga.  The Pradipika states right away that the goal of Hatha Yoga (yoga focused on asana and pranayama) is Raja Yoga (the 8 fold system of Patanjali). As teachers we have the responsibility to also practice svadhyaya and isvara pranidhanani.  Svadhyaya is the study of scripture.  My recommended reading list for all teachers is: Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Ramayana, and Sivananda's Self Knowledge.  For those teaching Vinyasa, Yoga Mala is also a requirement.  All of these are available for free on line (with the exception of Yoga Mala). I will show you where if you would like.  This is a bare bones list, a foundation.  Now, I will not say that you should postpone your classes until you have read these works (NOT understood.  If you meet anyone claiming to have understood these works, execute the same action as if you meet someone who claims to be a master) but....

The quickest way to begin cultivating isvara pranidhanani is through japa mantra practice.  Once you have a mantra, stick with it.  Do not change it.  Every mantra is as good as any other mantra.  Swami Sivandanda counsels that the repetition of any name of God, said correctly or incorrectly, with or without feeling, will lead to the desired result.  As an example, Valmiki was a rogue. A scoundrel.  He was told by a monk to say the Ramnam, but he was in such dire straits that he could not say the name correctly--the syllables came out backwards: "Mara, Mara." Even saying the name backwards he was liberated, and eventually composed the Ramayana.  

Turns out the guest speaker meant "Jump Back!" like the 80's expression.  Oops
It does not matter what you practice, it matters that you practice.

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