What Makes a Yoga Teacher
Life is Short.
When I first considered taking a yoga teacher training, I was in my early 20s. It became a very real goal for me in my life at that time, although I do not recall having a deep desire to teach the public.
In 2005 I made a decision to eventually take the teacher training at Ashtanga Yoga School in Seattle with David and Catherine Garrigues, two certified Ashtanga teachers. I eventually fulfilled that promise to myself in 2007, and my life would never be the same. The change from “student” to “teacher” however, was not what I had imagined. There was no change, actually… rather, I found new difficulties. I actually can recall becoming more injured in the months following my teacher training than ever before. Further personal complications made living in Seattle impossible, and through some sort of serendipitous action I ended up running a small yoga studio somewhere else.
2008 was a tough year for the Seattle Ashtanga contingent. In 2008 our school disbanded. One of our teachers was sick with cancer (we would lose her in 2010). In 2009 we lost Pattabhi Jois, and through this whole time David Garrigues was teaching on the East Coast. Essentially, we were left to fend for ourselves… which was exactly what I personally, needed.
In 2006 while I was studying daily at the Ashtanga Yoga School, I can remember being very fed up with yoga, with Ashtanga, and with life in general. I was dedicated to the practice, to an undeniable fault. Yoga was, essentially, ruining my practice of yoga. I petitioned and complained to my teacher, but to no avail. I can still remember after class, although he rarely, if ever, came out of the Mysore room to speak to anyone, on one particular day he followed me into the entrance area.
“You’re all I’ve got” I said to him, pleading for him to understand how important the school was to me, how important Ashtanga was to me, and how important it was that he remain my teacher and that I continue to study under him.
“No. You’re all you’ve got” He replied to me. I took his words incorrectly. I assumed he was backing out on me, somehow neglecting me as a student. My sensitive feelings couldn’t see anything other than a teacher abandoning me as a student. Somehow I imagined that I was just trying too hard, and he was unwilling to teach me at the pace which I wanted to learn. And, maybe, in some respects, that was accurate, but it definitely wasn’t the whole story.
David went on to explain to me. He even emailed me (which was very rare!). He essentially explained to me that he himself was a student, that he was not someone to be relied upon, but rather, someone to observe and enjoy and share the path with. He explained that he understood the pain and endurance required to undertake Ashtanga in a real way. He explained to me that he felt that this was where I belonged, and that I should keep going, but that I needed to get a clearer picture of the role he had in my life as a teacher.
It was this day that I began to realize that there were no teachers.
David Garrigues, to anyone who knows him, is not just a yoga teacher, he is a master. I’m sorry, but I don’t care who is teaching what style of yoga. David is absolutely absorbed in yoga… being around him is like being next to a nuclear yoga reactor. The guy just IS yoga. And David was saying that it’s not really about teachers, it’s not about students, it’s about evolution, it’s about progress, it’s about sustaining a practice for a long time, and really and truly learning from it as a human being on this planet, with this body, with this amount of gravity.
David taught me how to be a student, by explaining to me how to be a student. Teacher Trainings have now popped up all over the country, in so many forms. Some of them disgust me. I have been a part of many of them now. To this day my favorite yoga classes have been for credit college classes, and my program for people with Multiple Sclerosis…. and the reason for this is that they are the most research based classes I have ever taught, they were also the ones most distinctly not group fitness.
I do not hold a 200 hour training to teach you to be a group fitness instructor. I hold the 200 hour training in Bellingham to teach you to become a student. Like me.
I am a bad student.
Let me tell you. I have heard a lot of stories of the “bad man” saying that Guruji used to use. David has occasionally called me “bad man”, but he was always smiling when he did it. He’s also went on since to elaborate on what he was talking about.
Everyone has a style to their practice, and you have to uncover that or you are no good to anyone.
There is a story in yoga that you are a beginner for your first 7 years. I think that makes sense. You should learn to be a beginner first.
Now days, most people begin teaching yoga before they have practiced for a good 7 years. This is a troubling mistake. The world is full of bad yoga teachers. I can say this because I am a yogi and understand my subjective opinion. I am not saying that they are bad people, but there is a certain legitimacy to time when it comes to yoga. There’s no doubt that some of these teachers are amazing and they have reincarnated from their previous life as a great yoga guru, but I really think we should slow down on the class teachings. Look around you; who is really worthy of being called “yoga teacher”? If my teacher, David Garrigues, called himself into question when I referred to him as “teacher”, perhaps we should all do the same.
Yoga is beautiful in its ambiguity, yet so direct and poignant in it’s simplicity. I have taken the 200 hour curriculum which started at Ashtanga Yoga School in Seattle, the program which I graduated from 8 years ago, and I have tried to make it accessible to regular people. I have tried to make it so that I do not ever have to have some long conversation about what “style” of yoga I teach. Rather, I have attempted to make it inclusive.
During the course of study I am sure that we’ll disagree. The important thing will be to take a good look at your own personal convictions, line them out, and see if they hold true for you during your course of study. Furthermore, you can always refer back to the syllabus… if at any time you are feeling distant from the teaching, or at odds with what I appear to be teaching, let us reference these materials from distinguished authors, and keep ourselves on track. Opinions abound, but we needn’t stray too far off, because yoga truly is a science, it is not here for us to wander around aimlessly, instead, we simply can follow the path we are on to the place where we are today. Moving forward, we can then be more empowered as students on our path, with the support of the lineage, the science, and the application of past and contemporary students of the art. When you get your 200 hour, then, you should be proud of the accomplishment… because through research and perspective we evolve as practitioners.