August 15, 2013

Become a Mysore Yoga Teacher in 3 (Not So) Easy Steps.

HA! I knew that would get your attention!

Sorry to disappoint because…there is no neatly packaged teacher training and Mysore teachers are pretty hard to come by for a reason.

If you practice Ashtanga, Mysore style, you know what I’m saying.

(If you don’t and just clicked this link so you could add Ashtanga to your repertoire, just know anyone selling a program that promises to make you worthy of running a Mysore room is full of pure and unadulterated crap.)

Because the Mysore room is a whole different beast—as is the teacher who runs one. Let me put it this way, if I were to put out a want ad in the paper, it might go something like this:

Looking for someone with at least 10 years experience practicing Ashtanga Yoga (sorry, no hybrids), a strong back (and everything else) and doesn’t mind putting in eight hours of work before noon. Anyone who applies should be willing to invest significant time, money and sleep time into their continuing education and expect little return financially on their investment—though admittedly, become rich beyond measure in terms of heart and soul. This is a labor of love, people. And only the truly committed, dedicated, humble and independently wealthy need apply.

Hence, I do not run a program—I just pretend to on Facebook. So when studio owners, students and even reporters reach out to me for guidance and clarification, I often feel like a fraud.

I am a student.

A very devoted, passionate and committed student. One who truly enjoys sharing what she’s learned, on and off the mat and page. But I do not call myself a dedicated Mysore teacher outright. Too selfish, inexperienced or wise, who knows.

So then, what makes a Mysore teacher? Actually, anyone can title themselves, so the better question is what makes a good Mysore teacher. Sorry to disappoint tweeterbook-instafans, but I’m no expert.

Instead, I managed to catch up with three incredibly dedicated and esteemed teachers who are far more worthy to answer this question than I: Greg Nardi, David Garrigues and Aliya Weise.

Three different teachers; three same qualities

1. Self Study: A student first and forever

Greg: In order to do this it is imperative that we have the years of experience with the practice to have found some depth within our own practice, we have overcome some of our own trials and tribulations and have become adept at traversing uncomfortable terrain with steadiness, grace, and compassion. We are comfortable with our own shadow.

(A) senior teacher once told me that “any desire to teach in the first 10 years of practice is a beginners impulse and should be ignored.” It is statements like these that helped me realize how precious the student phase is. It is like the courtship phase of a relationship. The bonding that takes place is what sustains you in the later years.

If we begin to teach too soon, the energy that is cultivated in practice can be directed away from personal development and towards our teaching. It’s very important that you have run the gamut of physical and emotional experiences with your practice before you decide to teach a Mysore program. When students come to you with questions you should be able to speak from experience without your own doubt and frustration shading the teaching relationship.

Aliya: First and foremost, a good Mysore teacher must practice what they teach. I am not speaking of āsanas. I am speaking of regular, consistent practice. The better the practitioner (Sunday—Friday, same time, moon days off, etc.) the better foundation for a good teacher. It is only through the regular, consistent practice of calming and focusing the mind that a practitioner can have any hope of conveying that to, or facilitating that for, the students that come to them for instruction.

I would rather learn from a teacher practicing Surya A for 60 years than one doing Advanced A for six years.

David: You need to be incredibly passionate about your own sadhana, your own discipline that leads you further and further into the study of yoga. The mysore teacher has the responsibility to be a spiritual leader who is able to convey how the practice can lead each student to attain knowledge in all eight limbs of ashtanga yoga. This is partly because people who devote themselves to six days week generally are in it for much more than exercise.

You are responsible for developing a spiritual community and your success largely depends on what you can discover about the nature of the Self in your own practice and how well you can convey what you discover while keeping to spirit of what Sri K Pattabhi Jois taught you.

2. Part of the direct lineage

Greg: I started teaching yoga before I ever found Ashtanga Yoga and after only one year of practicing Hatha Yoga. As I discovered Ashtanga Yoga, I gradually began to teach it out of enthusiasm.

Then, a teacher recommended that I go to Mysore to study with Pattabhi Jois. I went, thinking this would be a once in a lifetime pilgrimage. I quickly realized the high standard that Pattabhi Jois expected of his teachers and how little I actually knew about Ashtanga Yoga.

When I got home, I continued to teach with Pattabhi Jois’s blessing to teach a little bit, but only what I know. This advice guided me through the next several years and helped me prioritize my practice, realize that I will always be a student first, and have incredible reverence for the depth and breadth of the practice.

Aliya: I clearly favor the traditional lineage and Sharath Jois but others have found great love for other teachers such as Richard Freeman or Tim Miller. What is essential, I think, is that love and devotion are given to the practitioners and teachers that have come before us.

Gratitude for our predecessors helps lay a foundation of duty to the students that will follow.

David: For me, foremost what makes a good Mysore teacher is to have a commitment and dedication to the teachings of Pattabhi Jois. And since Pattabhi Jois is no longer living for most people this means it is important to have a strong connection to a veteran teacher who is part of the lineage.

Anyone who runs a Mysore program ought to anchor their program in a sincere, humble, committed connection to the lineage. It is becoming more common for people to take the Mysore class learning model and shape to their own ends, adding or subtracting different elements as they see fit.

What these people could fail to understand is that these additions and subtractions have no place in the ashtanga lineage, especially when instigated by someone without a deeply rooted connection to Pattabhi Jois and his teachings.

3. Dedication to service

Greg: In my experience, the most important recognition for a Mysore teacher is that we serve the students. We must be humble enough to realize that teaching happens in relationship, and practice is co-created by the teacher, the student, and God’s grace.

The asana practice is the tool that we use to help the students explore the depths of their body and mind. We should not have an agenda or be dogmatic in our approach, but rather we hold space and energy for the students own exploration.

We often act as a mirror to help students see their own physical and mental blind spots, offer insights based on the teachings we have received from our own teachers, and support them in meeting attainable challenges so they gradually cultivate a deeper understanding of the potential that yoga has for uncovering the light of the boundless human spirit.

Certainly teaching is least about us as teachers.

Aliya: Lastly, I would say a good Mysore teacher loves deeply and unconditionally. A good Mysore teacher wants to do everything they can to teach their students properly, even sacrificing their own body. Yet, at the same time a good Mysore teacher accepts all students in what ever way they come to class.

I guess what I am trying to say is that while a good Mysore teacher will do all they can to get a student in to Mari D correctly, that teacher would also help a paraplegic breathe with equal passion, dedication and acceptance, knowing both students to be capable of being great yogis.

David: The Mysore teacher requires creativity and adaptability around teaching the postures to people of all different skill levels and stations in life. You need to be equally effective teaching students who are: younger, older, more or less stiff, more or less weak, more or less strong or flexible, more or less dependent or independent, more or less passionate, more or less kinesthetically awake and astute, more or less committed.

You need to teach people with powerful time-consuming careers, parents, ascetics who want nothing other than to practice. You need to be equally fit to teach absolute beginners and people working through the outrageous positions of fourth series.

Final words of advice?

Greg: Anyone who thinks they might be interested in teaching Mysore style should be sure to apprentice with a senior teacher for a good length of time. This way the above skills and qualities can be developed gradually and will create a strong platform to teach from. If there is no senior teacher to apprentice with, then it is important that we teach only what we know and stay humble enough to continually seek out further training by going to the KPJAYI in Mysore or traveling to some of the fine senior teachers in the world.

And this, my friend is your 200 plus plus plus plus hours. No short cuts. Hard work. Time. Commitment.

And an endless supply of humility and devotion.

Good luck.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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