What am I offering as a yoga teacher? I often think of this, in a field that is flooded with new teachers incessantly. YTTs are pumping out teachers left and right, and the whole “industry” is becoming increasingly gentrified and commercialized. I love seeing diversity and varied opportunities for students, but I have to admit it sucks to see studios that are offering really deep experiences dwindling while others that offer a more mainstream approach thrive. I suppose it’s a balance, and as times are changing my suspicion is that students, and in general many people in society, will be drawn toward a more spiritual practice. I think about the state of our world, and how many people are seeking, craving something meaningful outside the cultural expectations and norms we cycle through on the daily. I see people getting tired, exhausted by the mundane. Mindfulness practices are at their height of popularity right now, and I think it’s so attractive to the West because it offers an escape from the intensity of our modern world. Of course, the object of meditation isn’t an escape, it’s a practice in observing and developing an awareness that transcends the needless suffering that makes us feel like we need to run away in the first place. I think of “yoga vacations” and these wildly expensive, very exotic retreats where people can go and find themselves (for only a few thousand dollars!). I’ve gone to a yoga retreat before, and it was an enriching and wholesome experience, however the most satisfying and nurturing parts of my spiritual growth haven’t really been external. The internal practices, as we learn from experience, offer wisdom to act in the external world free of the suffering that can plague us otherwise.
I consider myself a pretty young, but experienced, teacher. I barely go to classes anymore because many of the styles and teachers offered don’t suit my needs or interests. So what does it mean for me, as a teacher who isn’t interested in offering cookie cutter yoga, to work in this field and create the kind of impact I’m interested in? Like I wrote above, I do believe things are shifting and orienting toward more spiritual practices. We’re looking not only for ways to soothe the heaviness of the negative parts of our world, but also for ways to create connections and heal collectively. I believe that as more people waken to the longing in their hearts for that healing and connection, trends will shift toward practices that offer spiritual experience. Likewise, with food and nutrition, I see us as collectively moving away from the processed convenience foods that we’ve been so hindered by globally. People are looking for something more, and something that makes them feel better. I think that’s where teachers and practitioners who are interested in offering multi-modal, holistic services are going to be needed. As the frontiers of holistic psychology and neuroscience open up, we see trends toward understanding ourselves as human beings, and what that means for us body, mind, and spirit. Understanding consciousness is becoming increasingly popular, as is the body-mind connection. In some ways, we’re catching up to eastern philosophy and psychology that has laid out this information for thousands of years. Even further than that, “primitive” civilizations worldwide have understood and valued the importance of honouring and supporting these connections.
I remind my students that they’re doing deep work, regardless of whether we’re just practicing asana and other movement. The physical postures on their ow help to purify and strengthen the body and mind. B.K.S Iyengar taught that the practice of asana contains within it all of the other 8 limbs of yoga – the components that lead to spiritual awakening. Though asana were originally meant to prepare a practitioner for meditation, I can’t see any negatives to releasing heaviness that keeps us from existing as whole and healthy beings. I suppose a drawback is not explaining this to students. They come to class and sweat out their woes, their stresses and anxieties, without understanding what that’s doing to them physiologically. In yoga and Buddhist meditation there’s a concept called sankaras, which are engrained patterns in the mind that have physical correlations. When we bring these things to the surface, either in meditation or physical practice, we open up the old wounds that have been causing us suffering. This in itself can be an emotional upheaval. So sometimes, the body or mind rebels. One might notice feeling more emotional after a yoga practice, or a random ache appear in their body that they can’t explain. I remind students of the purifying nature of both physical and mental practices. I think about my own journey with yoga and how many times I’ve broken down crying in a class. For years I had no idea why I had so much intensity, sometimes anger after certain practices. During my Kundalini yoga training I was in constant turmoil on every level of my being. I didn’t really understand that I was working through some deep traumas that I had been storing and carrying around. It took me years to develop the techniques to manage those things coming to the surface. So what I can offer to my own students as a teacher is these tools like equanimity, patience, and perseverance to help them through the upheavals.
I think, as many other teachers do, I teach what I know and what’s healing and empowering for me. So when I come to my mat to teach I want to be offering students an approach to their own journeys that gives them space and techniques to grow in the ways important to them. When I go to a class, I want to learn something about myself so that I can practice that in my daily life with other people. Yoga has never been just a great workout for me. I found the practice because my friend brought me to a class to laugh about the chanting together. Instead, I fell IN LOVE with the chanting and for many years didn’t even pay attention to asana. I want students to be able to have those experiences. I know it’s not always popular, either. Students who attend my Kundalini classes either love it or hate it, and those who have no idea what it’s about often leave looking stunned. I’ve chanted OM in class and watched the look of horror, or even fear, rush across faces. With eyes glossed over, some students seem to ignore what seems like weird to them. Many people turn away from the opening to vulnerability, and I get it because there was a time that I didn’t feel comfortable with being open in that way either. But in general, yoga has always been a platform for me to express and explore what’s I usually struggle with letting out.
When I first started teaching I was like “EVERYONE needs to appreciate ALL aspects of yoga, because it’s a system and maintaining that tradition is VITAL”. Now, I’m grateful people are out there trying something and doing work if only just in a subtle way. I do believe in upholding the tradition, however see the value in evolution and making adjustments as we develop as individuals, a culture, and as human beings. Our brain is evolving, and I often wonder what that means for meditation and the deeper states of consciousness many of us have never even thought about touching. Globalization and advancement in technology has brought esoteric wisdom right to our fingertips. Never has enlightenment been so accessible. I know things have to change.. after all, vipassana teaches that in boat loads: everything is always changing, rising and passing away. Anicca. The best I can do as a teacher is to offer a space, and knowledgable approach, to exploring how these practices translate in our own lives. We can offer a framework and laboratory that is free of judgment and intolerance. Many times I have found myself dissatisfied with the level of competition or feeling of superiority in a yoga class. It’s basically missing the point when you go to a practice that’s designed to dissolve the ego, and instead are bound up in its grips. People will resonate with certain things, and not with others. Something I think is becoming increasingly important is non-compliance. While I support change, I don’t ever support it at the cost if destruction to integrity or bringing others down. In a time of life that kind of necessitates action, yoga and meditation teachers have an opportunity to offer tools for radical change on a personal and social level. It’s an interesting, exciting time.