Creating Space for Self-Transformation

By Mark Stephens on Thu, 12/26/2013 - 12:44


Excerpted from Teaching Yoga, Chapter Five, “Creating Space for Self-Transformation”

The early Hatha yogis discovered that awakening and moving energy in the body gave them a feeling of radiant well-being and wholeness while opening wide the portals of conscious being. But the pathway of yoga—to yoke, to make whole—may not reveal itself automatically. Indeed, our tendency as human beings is to separate the body, breath, and mind, a disconnection that creates suffering as we become alienated from our essential nature as whole beings.1 This alienation is expressed in everything from stress and confusion to disease and despair. Hatha yoga offers an array of tools for unraveling the knots that bind us to this limited sense of self. “The transformation that yoga brings makes you more yourself,” Joel Kramer (1980) intones, “and opens you up to loving with greater depth. It involves a honing and refining which releases your true essence, as a sculptor brings out the beauty of form in the stone by slowly and carefully chipping away the rest.”

The primary roles of a yoga teacher are showing students a yogic pathway and offering them guidance along that path. Doing this with inspiration, knowledge, skill, patience, compassion, and creativity defines a good teacher. The many elements of teaching—creating a safe space for self-exploration, crafting sequences of asanas and pranayama practices that take students on physical and energetic journeys, cueing students in their process of refinement, offering practical guidance in meditation, offering examples for extending the practice off the mat—collectively lead to the same thing: yoga as a process for awakening to the truth of one’s being, to an abiding sense of equanimity amid the shifting tides of daily experience and the seasons of one’s life. If yoga were a practice of attainment in which we were all aiming for a certain goal, the role of the teacher would be much simpler. We would tell students what to do and how to do it. We would draw from our knowledge of yoga philosophy, energetics, anatomy, and psychology to craft classes and instructions that correctly orient students in moving toward the goal. In the physical practice, instruction would focus on the perfection poses; in pranayama we would teach the perfection of breath and energetic balance; in meditation we would teach students to still the mind. But yoga is not a practice of attainment; it is an unending process of self-discovery and self-transformation.

In this process, teachers are facilitators and guides who offer insightful encouragement along each student’s unique path as it evolves, breath by breath. All one really needs to practice yoga is intention. This is the most basic quality of the practice and the starting point of teaching. When a teacher has clarity of purpose, all the other qualities of teaching become clearer and more aligned. So the first question to ask one’s self is, Why do I want to teach? For many teachers, the core intention is simple: to create a space where students feel safe and supported in their practice. Below are the tools for creating that space.