7 Rules of a Good Yoga Teacher
In my last post, I said I would share my personal rules for maintaining my integrity as a yoga teacher. Why? Making money from sharing techniques for physical and mental wellbeing, profiting from spiritual practice…it’s a tricky path. Shouldn’t those things be free? Especially if we’re acting from compassion for other beings and not a drive for self-enrichment? On the other hand, teaching yoga is not easy. It’s a serious commitment of time, effort, and energy - not only in the studio but also the planning, the practicing, the inner processing, the marketing, the continued education... Of course all of that time and energy is valuable and should be compensated.
It’s fine to receive fair compensation for your efforts (in fact it’s a must if you want to be able to keep teaching!) but it is important to stay in your integrity and not compromise your ethics for profit. That’s going to look different for everyone, so as an example, I’m going to let you in on my take on personal and professional integrity as a yoga teacher. If I’m going to accept your hard-earned cash, I’m going to do my best to honor your support and show up in my highest. So these are the promises I make to all my students:
1) I will honor the Truth in you.
An important part of my job as a yoga teacher, beyond just guiding you through the asanas, is to bear witness to the good in you - to recognize the place in you that is whole and bright and loving. Yes, even when you’re not acting that way. Yoga teaches us that we all have an unbroken place within us - that our true nature is peace, compassion, and joy. I know that anything else comes from a place of suffering in you, as I have the places of suffering in me that take me away from my essential nature as well. But I promise to always look for that Divine spark in you, to remind us both that we can support each other to remember and live from that place.
2) I will set boundaries.
Yes, I will always recognize the highest in others. No, that does not mean I will let people walk all over me or take advantage of me. I will be aware of my needs - to be respected, to be valued (financially and otherwise), to set limits on the time and energy I can give to my students - so that I don’t end up burnt out and resentful. That does not a good yoga teacher make.
3) I will be real.
I am not here to show off or hide my shortcomings. I am human, and I will always be honest about that. We get plenty of messages in this era of non-stop advertising that we are not good enough, that we don’t measure up to someone else’s standards. Frankly, I think it sucks, and it's definitely not yogic. I will not pretend that I am perfect to be just another unattainable (and false) standard to try to achieve.
4) I will do my best to keep you safe.
Yoga practice comes with a certain amount of risk, as does life. That risk might be physical, or it might be stepping outside of your comfort zone and feeling a bit disoriented without your usual habits and protections. So I while can’t guarantee that you will never get hurt, and I certainly can’t promise that you’ll never be uncomfortable, I can do everything in my power to create a safe, supportive environment for you. That means having a good understanding of what I’m teaching (from asanas to breathing and meditation techniques) and not offering something out of my scope of practice or study.
5) I will trust you to make decisions for yourself and your body.
When I am teaching, I am guiding your practice. But it is always your practice. There may be times that I ask you not to do something in the name of safety (see above) but I will never, ever force you to do anything in your practice that you do not want to do in that moment for any reason at all, ever. (Can you tell that this is one I’m passionate about??) Yes I am in the seat of the teacher, yes I have my own dedicated practice and breadth of experience, yes I have studied anatomy, yoga philosophy, sequencing, etc…and no, that does not mean that I know your body/mind better than you do. I respect your choices. Period.
6) I will always be a student.
This is an easy one for me because I love learning. When I continually further my own knowledge and skills, it benefits us both: I stay fresh and inspired in my teaching. I am better at keeping you safe. I deepen my own practice, which I can then share with you. I stay humble, remembering there is always more I don’t know, and I am with you as a student, not above you.
7) I will embody what Yoga means to me. AKA I won't sell out.
This one might be the most important, and the most open to interpretation. Yes, there are ancient texts and many historical examples that we can look to as modern yogis for guidance about what it means to live a yogic lifestyle. But at the end of the day, it's up to each one of us to form our best interpretation of how the yogic principles apply to our daily life. Again, I'm not pretending to be a "perfect" yogi; but when I do have a conviction, I stick by it. For instance, I believe in the yogic teaching that we are all innately whole and peaceful and infinite - which is in direct conflict with the consumer mindset that says happiness and fulfillment are external and need to be bought. So while I feel good about accepting payment for my teaching, I will never promote or offer anything for sale on the premise that you are not okay as you are. So you won't be seeing the "Yoga Bikini Belly" or "10 Minute Yoga Slim Down" from me anytime soon...
In essence, this list is a summary of the principles that I have come to feel strongly about since I started practicing Yoga seriously over ten years ago. Is this the best or only possible list of teaching guidelines? Of course not. But it's the best for me because it's authentic to my experience, which means I can actually stick to it.
How about you? Do you agree with these guidelines? Do you have more of your own? As always, I love to hear from you. Until next time...
Stay safe, stay joyful, and keep practicing!