The Path of the Teacher

By Mark Stephens on Tue, 12/11/2012 - 12:37

Teaching yoga is an extension of practicing yoga. Whether you are just stepping onto the teaching path or have spent many years there maturing into a mentor teacher, as you practice so you discover anew the essence of yoga as a tool for self-transformation. Like in the practice, in teaching there are unlimited opportunities for seeing more clearly, feeling more fully, and living more happily. Teaching is also an extension of your larger life, for how you live is expressed in your teaching. Committing to this path will deepen your personal practice and bring yoga more into every aspect of your life. Doing this consciously—making a considered and deliberate decision to teach yoga rather than casually assuming the role of a teacher—will make every part of your teaching practice a more natural expression of who you are as a person while allowing you to sustain yourself more simply in the teaching profession.

Your students will always be your best teachers. Listen to them, to what they say, and to what they don’t say. Opening yourself with patience and compassion to how every student offers unique insights into the practice of doing and guiding yoga will help keep you grounded in the realities of your students. Your most challenging student may be your most relevant teacher. Honor, respect, and tap into these insights; they are the most essential foundation for being the best possible teacher.

Stay with your personal practice. Many yoga teachers become so consumed by teaching that their own practice fades. Not only is your practice a vital part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle, it is a bottomless well of experience for exploring and clarifying most of the questions that will arise in your teaching. Keep going back to that source. Beware of the common tendency among teachers to think you have done a practice by demonstrating asanas in the classes that you teach; it is not the same as when you are wholly focused in doing a yoga practice. Remembering Pattabhi Jois’s oft-quoted statement that yoga is ninety-nine percent practice and one percent theory, do the practice, and the theory!

Everything in life has a rhythm. As you explore along the path of teaching, take time to pause and reflect on how you are feeling amid the shifting rhythms of your experience. Notice the changing terrain, whether it is new places, different students, or the evolution of your thinking and personal experience of the practice. Like pausing when empty of breath and sensing more clarity, occasionally take a break from teaching to gain deeper insight into how you are approaching the craft. Be as clear as you can in your motivation to teach. Allow the inevitable challenges that arise in teaching to be raw material for your personal development, always opening yourself to refining your teaching just as you help students to refine their practice of yoga.

Keep breathing!