The Goal of Yoga
I believe that "the goal" of a yoga teacher is not to offer transformation, acceptance, or a transcendent experience. The goal of YOGA TEACHERS as a collective, is to bring people back to the mat. To meet them where they are and provide a space where they can meet, acknowledge, love, slay (or whatever) their own darlings and demons. There is NOTHING WRONG with crossfit-meets-yoga. Maybe it isn't your yoga today, but to someone else, it is letting in a sliver of light - it is providing a space on a mat for someone who needs that kind of yoga right now, today. If the teacher is popular, great. She is meeting students where they are. And if they later choose a different class because her class no longer serves them, than better for all of us to have open arms and say YES. WELCOME to my class. Here is what I have to offer you today. I'm glad you have returned to the mat.
Right now, a particular quote - a particular teaching - resonates with you. Perhaps in the crossfit class, someone else had a transcendent realization.
Who is to say which yoga is right?
It is an important lesson for us as teachers to embrace ALL teachers, styles, formats so that we as a collective can support one another and shine and share our light (and our shadow and darkness, as needed).
I often joke that I received two invitations on the same day - one to a beautiful prenatal yoga teacher training, with hands on bellies and peaceful music, and one for Booty Yoga - which was basically strip dancing on yoga mats in some poses that I could almost recognize as yoga poses. I don't think that's safe - at all! I'm personally concerned about their poor bodies the same way I'm personally concerned about other peoples' questionable moles - but neither has anything to do with me. I used to make fun of this style of yoga, until I met a few students who told me that was how they found yoga - someone told them it would make their butts look better. Maybe it did? But they also got injured, learned lessons, wrangled demons, and found a different style of yoga.
I'm trying - gently - to offer you something that I have seen in myself - a judgement of someone else calling themselves a yoga teacher doing something I'm categorically opposed to. Someone whose ego is showing, who is maybe a bit rajasic. Someone who highlights in me my own questions of worth - am I a worthy yoga teacher?
What I am saying is yes - I am a worthy yoga teacher. And so are you. And so is she. Even if you don't like it. Even if I don't like it.
When someone says to me, "That's not yoga!" I think of my dad shouting, "That's not music!"
Because it isn't, to you.
But it is to someone.
There’s a dirty promise lurking in the world of Instagram. It says if you practice yoga in your underwear in your kitchen, drink green smoothies from glass jars, and have a mala to match each phase of the moon, you will have “made it.”
Your life will be perfect.
If you become a teacher, sponsored by a yoga apparel company, adored by followers, you will find peace.
Your anxiety will roll over and die.
While you might know that these things are not true, you might still hope they are. You might play along, “just to see” if it does actually work out.
That’s actually ok.
It’s ok to want everything to work out, and while apparel sponsorship might get you the equanimity you desire, I find I feel just the same amount of wonderment or disdain whether I was paid to wear the pants or not.
I have always had anxiety. I have always practiced yoga.
My anxiety is incredibly productive. She can juggle insurmountable tasks, and when left unsupervised, will create more chaos and work than she could ever accomplish, out of self preservation.
Is there anything else in the house that could be alphabetized?
ARE YOU SURE???
If I don’t practice yoga, she starts to get the upper hand. And she’s pernicious.
I lose track of this sometimes, as a teacher. Sometimes I forget that teaching yoga is not practicing yoga, and if I teach and teach and teach at the expense of my practice, I find myself overcome by tears at a rest stop, starting a meditation timer to try again.
And so I’m writing to tell you that this is the game. I still sometimes wake to the strong-willed toddler of my own inner neurosis, and by sometimes, I mean often.
But I know what to do, and I’m better at remembering earlier. I have more tools, more friends, more guides. It used to take me until 3pm to remember that eating helps, or that phoning a friend is better than mining Facebook for real connection.
Go to class. Start the meditation timer. Find a cushion. Lie down. Repeat.
Lately I feel like a wet and wandered dog stumbling into a class. The teacher thinks I’m there to evaluate them, or believes because I have taught for a long time that I’m there to judge.
“I just need to practice,” I have whispered.
Because I don’t care if it’s a “brilliant” sequence, or a “great” soundtrack, or “stellar” adjustments. I am just trying to surrender to my human-ness.
Yoga classes are like 12 Step meetings and chocolate chip cookies: even a not-so-great one is still pretty good.
Almost always worth it.
Because life continues to unfold after you get the letters, the gold stars, the sponsorship deals, the writing advance, or whatever it is you’ve told yourself will be the line of demarkation beyond which you will have made it.
Life will not get easier.
You will just get better at it.
Yoga teachers teach, they don't TREAT.
Jen with Anatomy for Yogis and I have been saying this for years - your yoga teacher's 200 hour or 300 hour or 500 hour training does NOT train them to diagnose or treat any conditions - so please don't ask. It is so tempting to want to step over that line and offer you something, except it could be the wrong thing, and we're just as trained to know as your accountant.
Here is a quick primer on our scope - if yoga is HURTING you, as in, "wow, my shoulder really hurts in side plank" we are trained to help you do side plank in a way that does NOT hurt you. Or we can recommend alternate poses.
We can understand the anatomy and physiology of various functions and dysfunctions, and we can help explain them to you. We can teach around a challenging area, or help you breathe through difficult moments, diagnoses. We can teach you how to need less pain medication by using meditation, but we can't tell you to adjust your dose.
We can even ease your discomfort as you die.
More importantly, we can be on your team. Whether you're seeing someone for your depression or your dislocation, we can welcome you to our classes and tell you what fits into your treatment plan. We can remind you or teach you how the body functions, we can explain your treatment provider's treatment, and we can even suggest a second opinion. But if you've taken a training with me you know that my philosophy (from David Swenson) is that YOGA is a HAMMER. It is a tool with equal capacity to heal and break, it is not a magic wand.
We do not have pixie dust.
We are here to remind you that you're perfect, you belong, your illusion of separation is simply an illusion. Maybe for you that comes via 75 sun salutations or licking your own ankle, and we're trained to teach you that.
We are also trained to help you shift your perspective.
I always say - a good yoga teacher gets you to touch your toes, and a great teacher gets you to release the want.
And the best teacher doesn't cross that line - because as tempting as it is to our sweet little egos to do it just this once - just for you - just so we can cure what ails you, all it takes is one teacher wielding her ego like a hammer to destroy the reputation of yoga teachers and close off the path to yoga. Our shared goal as teachers is to bring you back to the mat - to remind you that the tools in the lexicon of yoga are always available to you, no matter what, whether it is my class or someone else's, my studio or your home studio.
We are here to help you see your injury, your diagnosis, your treatment as a teacher. If we take it away, what will you learn?
That is the real gift of yoga.
Om bolo satguru bhagavan ki.
(originally posted 1/25/2017)
Integrity & Attribution
We live in remarkable times with an intergallactic platform and ideas of intellectual property. Sometimes I forget the intricacies of the universe and believe that my teaching belongs to me.
(This is adorable).
How do we request reasonable compensation, honor our teachers, respect boundaries, and not trample on one another? I’ve done this with a lot less grace than I would have liked - giving away my teaching for no compensation, forgetting where precisely I learned a teaching, and gotten territorial when I felt like someone was selling my teaching verbatim (or had outright stolen and reattributed my stuff word-for-word).
Here’s what I know:
Reciprocity is a value
Does this mean you must be compensated to teach the yoga to the people? No. Does it mean that you must be thoughtful about how you exchange your time and energy? Absolutely. I believe strongly in bringing yoga to populations who cannot access public yoga classes - those who are hospitalized, incarcerated, and homeless.
I also believe in valuing the work that we do in an interdependent world. When I go to the grocery store, I don’t ask for a discount because “I am a starving yoga teacher,” I pay what they ask, so I charge what I am worth. This is our cultural agreement in the West.
Reverence is a value
You may have heard me call myself “irreverent,” which is also true. I have selective reverence, and I value all of my teachers - those who sat at the front of the room, and those who kicked me when I was down. I give attribution to a teaching that is passing through my lips or hands by sharing the name of the teacher, what they taught me, and how I interpret it differently.
Spewing quotes in yoga classes is not teaching. MLKJ said some wickedly impressive stuff and deserves attribution. AND deserves for what he offered to be mixed with what it means to you, how it relates to your students, and where and how you agree (or not). Reverence looks like this:
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” MLKJ
Don’t just leave it there. Don’t make it about alignment in chatturanga. Tell me how small acts of self-love, like making the bed in the morning so I have something nice to crawl into at night, or acknowledging the existence of my yoga mat neighbor are opportunities for small greatnesses. Tell me a modern parable about a kindness that was repaid 1,000 times over.
I’d also like to shout back to Anne Lamott who says that your story is your story, and if people didn’t want you to write about them, they should have been nicer to you. Kick me when I’m down? I’m gonna learn from it and teach it.
When is it flattery and when is it flattening?
Sometimes I read or hear the influence of my teaching, and it warms my heart. Teaching is my legacy, and it feels nice to know that what I taught someone resonated with them to the extent that they are passing it along. That is the goal of teaching, is it not? I don’t want a statue built in my honor, but I do want people to suffer a little less for the suffering I have experienced and learned from.
Other times, I see people give handouts that I created with my name somehow missing.
That feels different.
Clearly, if it were only the teaching that mattered to me, this would not bother me. I would be grateful to see the lessons passed along. But I don’t think it’s just solid ego either. Sure, it feels like my legacy is unimportant if I don’t have attribution, but it is bigger than that.
My opinion on the matter, is that teaching is how you interpret the various life events that have come to you, whether they come to you as teachings or otherwise. It is essential that you take this in and interpret it back out. If you simply redistribute the teaching of someone else, it misses this critical step, so when your students ask you for your opinion on the matter, or for some deeper nuance, you may be lost in the woods with no sense of how you got there.
PROGRAMS for Yoga Teachers: