People come to yoga classes with different backgrounds and expectations, each seeking their own panacea, whether it be for back pain, tight hamstrings, stress, or specific medical conditions. Because of this, a yoga teacher's role bears great responsibility, requires years of dedicated study and effort, and demands a high level of integrity.
At its core, yoga is a spiritual practice - a process of self-awareness, self-discovery and self-realisation. At some level, when students turn up at a yoga class, they are seeking this whether they consciously realise and express it or not. Even if a student comes to yoga to receive a physical benefit, what often keeps them coming back is the deepening spiritual connection with themselves each time they are on the mat. Yoga has the power to support the whole being, and for yoga teachers to truly have integrity, they must address this in their teaching.
Many of the yoga classes that are available to the public focus primarily on the physical aspect of yoga - asanas, or postures. In fact, to be true to the teachings of yoga, most modern Western yoga classes should actually be called "asana classes". Make no mistake, practicing yoga asanas is hugely valuable to our health and well-being. But to experience all that yoga has to offer, we want to make sure that our yoga teacher is able to support us on all levels of our being. This means yoga teachers need to be able to connect their students with the essence and spirit of yoga, and share their knowledge and experience of yoga in an authentic way.
How do you know when your yoga teacher has integrity? Here are a few clues.
A yoga teacher with integrity will:
- Only teach what they have studied, learned and embodied
- Have developed their own depth of wisdom and connection with the true teachings of yoga.
- Have developed their own spirituality through a great deal of study and personal self-development.
- Have their own personal practice as the creative source of their teaching.
- Be a student themselves. A good yoga teacher is a student all of the time, and a teacher for part of the time.
- Have a teacher or a mentor themselves, and be constantly in process with yoga.
- Not be afraid to make mistakes, or show that they are not perfect.
- Have humility and not pretend to know it all.
- Have faith in the techniques of yoga and trust that the yoga practices will do the work.
- Be comfortable offering even the most simple practices to support their students' growth.
- Be as invisible as possible, and simply facilitate the process of yoga by allowing the teachings to shine through.
- Get out of the way of the process, and not have any expectation of outcomes for their students.
- Encourage students to explore themselves at deeper levels.
- Empower students to become more aware of their own feelings and intuition, allowing the inner teacher to emerge.
What about new teachers?
There are a lot of newer yoga teachers out there, who have recently completed their teacher training and are starting to teach classes. Looking from the outside, it could be easy to wonder how they can have integrity and authenticity in their teaching if they haven't yet "done their time" as teachers. But I firmly believe that it is possible for every yoga teacher to have integrity if they teach from what they have learned and embodied through practice and experience, are in process with their own spiritual practice, and acknowledge that they are on a life-long path of growth and learning!
I remember when I was a new teacher, having had just completed my first teacher training and was starting to teach classes. I idolised my teacher (who had been teaching for about five years herself), I thought she was fabulous and knowledgeable and sooooo inspiring. I would often say to myself, "I wish I was already teaching for five years like Betty-Sue*, then I would be so knowledgeable and inspiring."
When I had been teaching for five years, I would say to myself, "I wish I was already teaching for ten years, then I would know so much about yoga and be really, really inspiring."
When I had been teaching for ten years, I realised that I would probably never know everything about yoga, and that what I knew was enough to be inspiring to my students, if I expressed myself in a heartfelt and authentic way.
I encourage all teachers, new and experienced, to take the time time cultivate their own inner wisdom through the teachings and practice of yoga in all its facets, and to develop their own unique ways to express this and share this with their students.
If you'd like to learn more about becoming a yoga teacher, or developing your teaching skills, then we'd love to talk to you. Get in touch with us here, and start the conversation.
*Yoga teacher's name has been changed to protect her identity.
Written by Nicole Walsh