by Kara-Leah Grant
I was recently in a yoga class with yet another teacher who’s not present, not teaching to the room, and not really teaching yoga.
Oh, there were postures, and alignment cues, and by the end of the class as she’d come more into herself and some presence, offering some lovely phrases and suggestions.
Other people enjoyed the class. They left feeling like they’d done a “good yoga class”. They were happy. Content. And they’ll keep coming back.
Me, I was watching my inner dialogue around it all. I listened to the beauty this teacher had to offer – because there was beauty – and I worked as I needed to within the limitations of my body. I’ve got this down now – taking what’s on offer, leaving the rest.
I have huge expectations and desires.
I want to be taught by teachers that are fully present, that see the room, that deliver personalised guidance according to what’s going on in the room, that understand teaching yoga is not about teaching postures but about something far deeper.
I want teachers who have a daily home yoga practice and are committed to the study of yoga on a multi-dimensional level. I want teachers who live their yoga, and teach out of that deep well of lived experience.
Reality is that most teachers, passionate as they might be about yoga, don’t have a daily home yoga practice, haven’t lived into their yoga, and don’t study or practice a variety of yoga tools like philosophy, pranayama, meditation or chanting. Some of them don’t even know that Yoga is about waking up or realization of the Self. That asana is just a tool used to serve this purpose.
Instead, they teach out of what they do know, which isn’t much sometimes.
And even worse, I’m seeing a second generation of teachers who don’t deeply live their yoga setting up yoga teacher trainings of their own. These teachers, who don’t live their yoga deeply (I know – I said it already, but I’m going to say it again, and again, and again), are now training the next generation of teachers..
Teachers are teaching who have never experienced a real teacher of their own.
They have no idea what they don’t know, or the experiences they haven’t had, or even what yoga really is.
Yoga is becoming diluted.
This is nothing new, I’m sure. Yet it’s endemic now.
My automatic reaction was to assume that this dilution is ‘bad’. I noted my automatic reaction – a layering on of a judgement about my experience that then defines my experience.
So instead I asked myself:
Is that really true? Is it bad that yoga teaching has become completely diluted because non-teachers are teaching wannabe teachers and no-one really gives a shit about dedicating themselves to the practice for a few years before considering teaching? Is that really bad at all?
Let’s back up a moment and take a look at my yoga history for some context.
I took my first ten week course in 1995 and started regular yoga classes in about 1999 or 2000. Regular home practice kicked in at about the same time – if you call meditating consistently while under the influence of various conscious-warping substances home practice. (And I don’t know if I do, nor do I recommend it unless you’re willing to pay the price.)
2004 was a watershed in my yoga practice. Firstly, I had an experience that possibly was some kind of Kundalini Awakening, Spiritual Emergence or possibly was just garden variety psychosis and f*cked-upness. I don’t like to talk in absolutes around that experience too much anymore. It’s so long ago, and besides, I was out of my mind right? Who knows?
Regardless, it appears that as a result of that experience, there was some kind of transmission and I changed.
Or my perception of reality changed. Or something. Again – I don’t want to speak in absolutes, nor claim anything.
The up-shot was I was wrecked physically, emotionally and mentally and the only thing that seemed to make life bearable was regular yoga.
But there were few teachers in my locale, plus I seemed to have developed a hyper-critical radar when it came to yoga teachers and the ones that were around weren’t offering what I wanted or craved.
The only choice I had was regular home yoga practice. Two years later, that home yoga practice became daily because I was asked to teach yoga. I had no desire to be a teacher. It just showed up.
So I answered the call and started teaching, with no certification and I was aghast, freaked out, and seriously worried about the integrity of it all.
I was concerned for my students and took my responsibility as a teacher incredibly seriously. If I was going to teach, then I had to practice every single day – asana, pranayama, meditation, reading… because I wasn’t trained or certified and I knew the only thing I could teach out of was my own experience.
This turned out to be the greatest gift of all.
At the time, I bemoaned it, and desperately wanted to train, but I was broke and in debt and it wasn’t until 2008, two years later, that I started my teacher training. In the meantime, I had embedded home practice into my life and living my yoga because I had a responsibility to my students.
I took it seriously. And maybe that’s why I’m so hard on other yoga teachers. When I go to class, I want to be seen and I want to be taught.
Fact is, most yoga teachers can’t see at all, and they’re merely instructing postures with some lovely philosophy thrown in if you’re lucky.
Plus, I also know that when I teach, sometimes I’m just as bad.
I often don’t see my students. I don’t teach to the room. I also notice that when I consistently do ninety minutes of practice first thing in the morning, my teaching reaches another level. there’s a depth and a stillness there which is missing when my home practice drops to 30 minutes later in the day.
I too am a work in progress. I too am guilty of diluting the transmission of yoga. I too am the bad yoga teacher.
I’m aware of it. I know it. I see it.
And I strive toward being the best teacher I can be because I have a responsibility to my students.
It’s not my grasp of anatomy or my understanding of the intricacies of alignment that make me an extraordinary teacher in those moments when I rise to my potential. It’s my ability to be deeply present, to see into the hearts and minds of my students, and to deliver what is needed in the moment.
This is the yoga. This is why we practice. This is what we’re actually doing in asana.
We’re learning how to be deeply present with our experience and to see into the truth of our hearts and minds, delivering what’s needed in the moment.
But we’ll never learn this from a teacher who isn’t present, who can’t see into our hearts and minds and who is not delivering what is needed in the moment.
We might learn some postures.
We might feel good.
We might enjoy ourselves.
It might be a good class.
But the transmission is missing.
We’re not learning the actual yoga.
But hey, maybe that isn’t bad.
Maybe it just is.
Because maybe no one really gives a sh*t about self-realization. About… Yoga.