Recently, I met a young woman who had just decided to become a yoga teacher. When she learned that I also teach yoga, she said, “Oh, where did you do your teacher training?” My mind went blank for a moment, which was a blessing in itself. It was such a bizarre way for me to think of my journey of practicing yoga. I suppose I had been training to be a teacher since my first class over two decades ago, and I have indeed received numerous certificates that show in black-and-white that I am qualified to share the practice with others.
But this young woman seemed to have a very different idea of teacher training. To her, it evoked images of a program designed to share a skill-set, culminating with a letter of authorization and an automatic ability to teach. To me, it represents years of pilgrimage and practice spanning nearly half of my life. People are often surprised to hear my reply when they ask me if I have recommendations on yoga teacher training courses.
I don’t recommend yoga teacher trainings.
Before you dismiss me, hear me out. I’m not saying don’t ever do one. I’m saying don’t go looking for one just for the sake of doing a teacher training or to get a certificate that says you can teach. You don’t need a piece of paper to teach. You need students. And experience. If you have been studying with a teacher that you know, love and respect, and they offer a teacher training then, by all means, do it. You’ve developed the relationship and you can always deepen your knowledge base. It’s good to have a mentor.
But if you have suddenly decided, after 20 years of practicing law, that you want to go get yourself a yoga teacher certification and embark on a new career, I say to you: Halt! Slow down, Betty. Or Bob. The problem I see with aiming for a teacher training certificate is that it can instill a false sense of security: “I have the proof right here in black-and-white,” one may say. Yoga is not about digesting information and dispensing instructions for healthy living. It is about developing a titanium relationship to your world in the present moment, adamantine, luminous and incredibly gentle, through dedicated practice and recognizing the limitless nature of that relationship. How can we learn that in a month-long program?
When I started teaching yoga it was purely circumstantial. People saw that I was dedicated and enthusiastic, and they wanted to learn. I never set out to become a teacher, and as a result, I’ve always looked to the practice to guide my teaching. And this is my point. Teaching should evolve naturally from circumstance, from the dedication we show to the practice and to people being inspired by what we do.
Are you ready to become a yoga teacher?
-You have the right motivation
-You have an ongoing practice and continue to learn
-You have done your own psychological work (meaning: you don’t look to your students to fulfill your needs)
-You feel inspired by what you teach
-You like helping others
-You don’t have an agenda for what your students will experience
-You are respectful to other approaches and schools
-You have confidence in your own relationship to practice, and not that of a system
-The universe conspires to create an opportunity
Many yoga schools have hit the dirt in recent years due to their leaders behaving in unsavoury ways. It’s unfortunate, and perhaps uncouth to mention, but it’s a reality. And if you are considering becoming a yoga teacher, then you should know this. Besides, joining a bandwagon is simply an invitation to dogmatism and fundamentalist ideology. I am more inspired by teachers who have developed their own style, not their own brands, but their own unique relationship to these 5000-year-old practices. In order to develop an individual style, one needs to have a deep understanding and an authentic experience of the practices.
There is a learning curve necessary to go through. It’s good to study with a lineage and learn the approach of that school. It’s good to know the texts: Yoga Sutra, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Shiva Samhita, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita. This will help you establish the view. But the view is not enough to understand yoga. Yoga is a set of practices that allow a practitioner to explore and understand the mind through accessing the subtle body. You learn by doing. Any system that you try to impose on that exploration will inherently limit the possibilities by putting constraints and expectations on your own experience. It’s the my view is better than your view dilemma. And that’s what causes wars.
So after learning the system, or the posture, or the view, then, this is the big secret coming up, you have to let it go. If you can do this, your experience will deepen. If not, please reconsider whether or not you are ready to teach yoga. If you are still inspired and on-board, that’s fantastic: go teach. Otherwise, don’t become a yoga teacher unless you have the dedication to explore your own relationship to practice over the long haul, regardless of what anyone else tells you. Including me.Photo courtesy of the author.
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