Thursday, May 31, 2012

Open Letter to Yoga Teacher Trainee Graduates

Congratulations graduates!  Wherever you have completed your training, whatever style it happened to be, I know that you have put much effort, time, and money to get to this point. But this is not the end of training.  You have established a little foundation, a base, a seed which still requires much cultivating.  Someone who aspires to teach carries a different burden than those whose practice is study alone.  Allow me to put some stepping stones down for you, based on my experience, so that you can keep your momentum as you move toward your goal of being a yoga teacher.

1.       If you have not done so already, cultivate your home practice.  In fact, make practicing at home the majority of your practice time.  And make seated meditation a major component of your home practice. Yes, stay connected to your teacher, AND honor your teacher through regular self-directed practice of their teachings.  A teacher cannot motivate, inspire, and instill discipline in anyone else without first learning to motivate, inspire, and instill discipline in themselves.  Your students see your practice (or lack of practice).  Show them that the science of yoga is not relegated to 1 ½ hours one night a week in a studio, or at some yoga vacationland, or in some distant cave in the mountains—it happens here and now.  Show them that a little consistent practice is more important than showing off fancy contortions in front of the class.  Fancy contortions will come and go, the working expression of every pose will change—this reality is a source of struggle with students.  Show them that you understand because you deal with this through your own practice.  Demonstrate that the discipline of practice is much much more important than being able to achieve someone else’s idea of perfection in a given asana.
2.       Read and study.  Right now go buy and read The Hatha Yoga Pradipika.  I suggest Swami Muktibodhananda’s translation.  It has wonderfully complete (and dogma free) commentary and diagrams, and interprets the text for the modern reader.  Why is this work of great importance? Because it is the basis for everything we do in Hatha Yoga (remember that Hatha Yoga is ANY yoga practice which focuses on asana and pranayama. Any brand/style you can take a class in is Hatha Yoga). It puts the practice of asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, and kriyas in their correct perspective: as a vehicle to reach Raja (Patañjali) Yoga. Your students may or may not ever aspire to do more than use asana practice to “work out,” however it is vital that as a teacher you know and understand the proper context of asana practice: a tiny part of a greater practice.  Think of it this way—you can spend lots of money and time customizing and primping your vehicle, but if you neglect driving to work, it does not do you any good in the long run.  Secondly, get yourself a copy of The Bhagavad Gita.  I recommend Swami Sivananda’s (available for free) and Eknath Easwaran’s translations.  They are free of dogma and are written for the benefit of a wide (i.e. non-Hindu) audience.  In the science of Yoga, it is the oldest source which is considered the most authoritative.  This is the oldest handbook for the practice of yoga.  Read it through once, then read it again skipping over what feels “Hindu” and concentrate on the more universal themes.  Read the Pradipika, The Yoga Sutras, The Bhagavad Gita over and over and you will see how the first leads to the second which leads to the third. If you have read these works as a part of your teacher training, pick them up again right away. Never stop studying.
3.       Always have faith in what you are doing.  There will always be obstacles in your way.  Patañjali outlines some obstacles and their manifestations.  Can we ever get to a point where there are no obstacles?  No.  It is the nature of obstacles to obstruct.  We can get to a point (I have faith this is true) where we can change our own reaction and become indifferent to both successes and obstacles.  You will have students who love you and who hate you.  You will have full rooms and empty rooms.  Make it your practice not to attach to either.  All you can do as a teacher is to give possibilities. Hopefully these possibilities are truthful examples from your own practice.  Each student will accept only the teachings they are ready to accept.  Do not ever try to understand why students come or do not come to class.  It will make you crazy.  Teach with the same enthusiasm to one as you would to a packed house. You will find total jerkballs who will become your greatest teachers, and you will find that those you thought were great teachers are ego-driven con artists.  Learn from both equally, and accept them for who they are not who you want them to be. You will have days when getting to your practice space is easy, natural, organic, and days when you need to bribe, cajole, and force yourself. Be firm and persevere in your practice no matter what stands in your way.  

Discipline leads to study which grows faith which encourages discipline…so goes the Cartesian Circle of practice.  You’ve bought the ticket, now take the ride.   

Krishna says in The Gita “Whatever a leader sets as the example, so do others follow.” (III.21) This is why it is so important that you as a teacher discipline yourself, continue to study, and cultivate your faith in the validity and correctness of the practice. Your practice is an offering, and act of adoration to your students.  Every time you practice you are helping your students to move forward in their practices, inspiring them to progress far beyond your level.  There is no element of your practice that is for your own benefit, it is all for the benefit of your current, past, and future students. This is the responsibility a teacher accepts.

When you have doubts along the way, know that you are not alone. I am there slowly carving out a path just as you are.  Know that someone with a full-time job, a family, and a side gig of teaching yoga can find a way to practice at Brahmamuhurta: rolling the beads, chanting, sitting, breathing, and doing asana.  Swami Sivananda says that “Brahmamuhurta is NOW!”—it is always the right time to practice, so get to it. There is no excuse. It can be done.  I have faith in you. 

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