Three Questions Every Yoga Teacher Should Ask Themselves
Just like anything else, yoga practice can become routine, especially for teachers who are immersed in planning and teaching and (I hope) taking classes. It's a good idea to check in regularly with yourself to make sure that you're not simply going through the motions. There's so many benefits that come from a truly intimate and committed practice - you want to make sure you're not robbing yourself of that goodnessI If you haven't given much consideration to your practice for a while, these questions are a great place to start, so grab a pen and paper and let's dive in....
1) How is my practice serving me right now? This one is important because as a teacher, it’s easy to get sucked into expectations of what you think a teacher’s practice “should” be. Do you think that a good yoga practice lasts a certain amount of time? Or that you always need to be working towards more advanced poses? Do you have an image of an ideal yoga teacher that you’re trying to live up to and feeling bad when you don’t? We’re social creatures, so some level of noticing what others are doing and setting standards for ourselves is inevitable. The problem comes when you give more credence to external ideas and images of perfection than to the reality of your lived experience. So if you make a list of the qualities a worthy yoga practice should have - reframe them as questions to see if those things are actually serving you. For example, carrying on from above, your list might look something like this… An ideal yoga practice: - is at least an hour and a half long - includes some meditation and breath work - has inversions in it (ideally handstand and headstand at the end) Which you could then reframe as questions: - Is it serving me in my life / body / mind as it is now to practice for an hour and a half or longer? - Does the way I practice meditation or breath work serve my life / body / mind as it is now? - Is my inversion practice serving me as I am now? There’s no right or wrong answer - some answers will be a yes and some will be a no - the whole point is to become sensitive to your own individual needs and how they shift over time. If it feels difficult to know what’s serving you and what’s not, ask yourself: How do I feel during and after this aspect of practice? (Remember, something that serves you doesn’t mean it’s comfortable or easy for you - in fact, it’s often the opposite.) 2) What changes in my life am I making as a result of my practice? Ultimately, the aim of the yoga practice is to bring us back to the wholeness, inherent worth, and connection that is emblematic of our Inner Nature. It’s what we all want, and yet it can feel so elusive. The aim of the practice is to help us live more and more from that Inner Truth, to know it is our birthright that we can access at any time, instead of just glimpsing it in a moment of good fortune (or during a particularly sweet savasana). Paradoxically, the journey to experiencing your Inner Nature isn’t about striving to get somewhere you’re not (since it already resides within you) but to strip away the patterns of behavior and thought that are keeping you from it. Which means that as you progress on your path, you will start to make different choices in all areas of your life - from the tone of your inner dialogue to what you choose to consume to how you relate to others. These shifts happen naturally when the realization dawns that a former way of being no longer feels right. This is a normal part of all of our journeys, as we grow and evolve through life. For those of us practicing yoga, these changes reflect our time in contact with the acceptance, love, and respect we find within. We make shifts to the degree that we are willing to become increasingly honest about who we really are and how we want to show up in the world. Another way to say this is: How am I allowing the practice to transform me? Or better yet: How is my practice supporting me to live in integrity with my Inner Truth? And then crucially: Where is the evidence? For me, this is *the* litmus test to determine if I’m on track in my practice - whether I’m honoring the tradition of yoga by staying true to its essence or whether I’m getting lost in the weeds of fancy poses, creating “fresh” sequences, getting stronger, feeling energized, etc. All of which can absolutely be great, but they can also be an ego trap. If it’s going to be genuine yoga, revealing the Inner Nature comes first. Since I’m not enlightened yet, I know there’s still more to strip away, and that means internal and external transformation that I can observe. 3) How am I communicating that to my students? Just like the first two, the answer to this question is completely individual. There’s no exact right way to bring the deeper meaning of yoga to your students; the only wrong way is not to try at all. Finding ways to weave your experience and your understanding of the significant aspects of the practice into your teaching will elevate your classes far above the average fitness class. Maybe not every student will be ready for that, but for those who are, you’ll be speaking straight to their hearts. Sharing the depth of the practice in this way is incredibly rewarding and you can think of it as paying it forward for all the teachings you’ve received that have served you and helped you to transform.
With love & in support of your best practice,