One of the best pieces of advice I was given regarding being a yoga teacher, was from yoga teacher Mara Healy and it was "Guard Your Practice". The minute you become a yoga teacher a new door opens to you. All the mess going on in the yoga community that gets pushed in the closet and under the rug when you are a student, is reveled in to you in the shocking light of day as a teacher.
Because you are a yoga teacher, many people want to roll you up in the mess with them. The best thing to do is guard your practice. Not only do you have to physically set time and parameters around your practice, but you have to do it mentally as well.
Amazingly, the first thing to go for many yoga teachers is their personal practice. A common conversation amongst yoga teachers is, "How long has it been since you practiced? I haven't been able to do anything in weeks!" At some point, acquiring more classes and clients , becomes more important than doing the practice.
Another reason that teachers stop practicing is because they allow themselves to get caught up in studio politics, so that when they arrive to practice, they are inundated with studio business and gossip. Even if no one is physically approaching them, they feel as if people are silently casting judgement.
Not practicing is bad news for many reasons. The best teachers are those with the most experience in the practice itself. A teacher that doesn't practice may be an absolute amazing instructor but their students will eventually plateau because the teacher cannot take them anywhere new because they have not gone anywhere new themselves.
Many teachers who don't practice, become dogmatic about a certain method of yoga because they have mastered that method so they don't have to practice to teach it. They gravitate towards styles that are simple enough that they will never be asked to do anything that takes them out of their comfort zone or would take practice to demonstrate. This also causes their students to plateau because they are never exposed to more challenging asanas and techniques.
Also, when a teacher does not practice, they began to lose connection with how it feels to be a student and they lose compassion for those they are teaching. Without compassion, a teacher loses their ability to effectively help students with injuries and difficulties specific to their practice. They essentially become great at teaching people with natural yoga abilities but suck at helping those who have challenges that make yoga difficult. In essence, the population that really needs the yoga doesn't get it.
It is also important for teachers to guard their spiritual practice and to continue to live in alignment with the philosophy of yoga. As we watch our numbers swell and/or shrink, It is hard to not become attached and allow our emotions and egos to swell and sink as well. If the class numbers are big and the ego is bigger, it is easy to get drunk on power and gain an inflated sense of self and land in situations where the boundaries of ethics and propriety are overstepped. This is what happens to the big name teachers in the news who get involved in money, lawsuits and sex scandals. Many of them started out with the best of intentions, but because they did not stay steadfast in their spiritual practice, they lost their way.
If a teacher has small class numbers and little confidence, they attach their self worth to their class roster. They become depressed and quickly lose their passion for teaching ,or worse, sell their soul and teach in a way that doesn't honor their spirit in order to get more students.
In order to teach yoga and stay emotionally healthy, non attachment is crucial. It is important to understand with every fiber of our being, that our self worth has nothing to do with who is or is not showing up for class. To keep the ego in check, it is also necessary to apply the Yamas:
Ahimsa-non violence and not causing harm to students mentally, physically and spiritually
Asteya-non stealing, non coveting, no envy. Not wanting what is not yours
Bramacharya-Abstaining from behaviors that abuse the student teacher relationship. Also applies to the stages of life observed by Yogi's but that is for another article.
How To Guard Your Practice
- Set time in your schedule for practice
- Practice non-attachment
- Observe the Yamas
- See your practice as sacred and don't let any situation or person invade your sacred space. This is your time. Clear your mind and enjoy it.