November 21, 2013

What’s the Main Job of a Hatha Yoga Teacher?

An interview with Certified Ashtanga teacher David Garrigues and filmmaker Joy Marzec.

Joy: My next film deals with a 25 year old nun who is struggling to accept the responsibility of her role as a spiritual leader. She decides to leave the convent and hop a train to a church in NM that is known for God’s presence by performing miracles.

Perhaps the miracle of God will reveal the answer if she’s destined and fit to be a nun. Throughout the film the questions of pain, frustration and responsibility of a spiritual leader are asked. I would like to get your perspectrive, David, on this idea.

First,  what do you think the main job of a Hatha Yoga teacher is? Is it to be a spiritual leader?

David: It calls to mind Sri K Pattabhis Jois’s perhaps adage statement on yoga…99 % practice….as a teacher you are a spiritual leader, but your biggest job is to attend the gritty details of becoming spiritually minded. And that is somehow decidedly unspiritual…

Guruji cared about helping his students learn how to back bend or to twist…his instructions were almost entirely command instructions in a simple, physical body language but in his mind, in his intention, in his touch, he was concerned with your spirituality. It was not about gymnastics or something plainly limited to the physical body.

Joy: Do you perceive your role as a yoga teacher similar to a priest or a rabbi or a nun?

David: I would say yes in a contemporary way…having a serious yoga practice and serious teacher is the equivalent of going to a church where a spiritual advisor or mentor is helping you. Yoga class replaces church for many people.

Joy: It’s a serious job?

David: Yes, I would say that being a yoga teacher is a serious job! Yes! Wow! No doubt!

Joy: And so it is a bit unbelievable that you can do a 200 hour training and be a yoga teacher?

David: But remember there are levels and to come to a level of mastery and understanding of what yoga is and can do or be for people who are seeking meaning takes a long time and is an incredible sacrifice.

You can only lead people as far into the exploration of spirituality through yoga as you have understood or gone yourself. This is why a yoga class can be little more than exercise or can be a totally profound experience, depending on who is conducting the class.

Joy: How as a teacher do you access the depths of yoga in order to convey its most important teachings to people?

David: There’s only one answer.

Joy: Future yoga teachers are biting their nails.

David: Passion. Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, all embodied passion for yoga. Single-minded dedication to every foundation technique that the sacred texts speak of. That passion is a fire that does not wind down for the duration of your lifetime. It can’t. It won’t. It’s an ever self restoking fire…all three of those teachers were forces of yoga power.

To be around Pattabhi Jois there was nothing but yoga. Once you were in the discipline of yoga then he would interact with you in small other ways, more mundane things, but everything centered around yoga. Undiluted, unmixed with anything else.  He quoted from the Yoga Sutras, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, sacred Hatha Yoga texts, vedas, everything was geared towards mastery of Hatha Yoga.

I have been teaching full time now since 1996.

Seventeen years without stopping and I can say that this is the first year that I have truly begun to understand how to synthesize the biggest picture of what yoga is into the the smallest aspects of the everyday practice.

Sixteen years not comprehending to that level and I finally have won through to this level now. That is a crazy time frame.

That is starting in kindergarden at 35 and proceeding through to a PHD….a lot of study, self study, self schooling, practicing, teaching, failing, trying again, learning, wanting, thirsting.

Joy: What are some of the fears that you go through?

David: One is like you pointed out above this is a serious job. I mean I feel like a priest. That causes a lot of fear in many ways. There is adequacy fear, like how am I supposed help guide someone spiritually? That is challenging and causes panic in me and then there’s a resistance to the built in asceticism of it.

There is no vacation from it. No real break. There’s a sense of total responsibility and a fear of how challenging that responsibility is and how bound for failure it is.

And I am scared that I am not dedicated enough or I don’t care enough or I am not strong enough and I’m also scared fooling myself.

 If I was postman…

Joy: This is David’s alternative job he always refers too.

David: Yes, always a postman. But think of what my responsibility would be?  To deliver mail on time and for it not to be wet and soggy…right? What a relief! Instead, every choice I make I think of my students and it is my job to set an example, to be a leader…and sometimes its just plain scary……

Joy: If you fall short?

David: Yes but also that somehow…

Joy: They depend on you?

David: Yes. but it’s more like the universe has me backed into a corner where this is what I need to be doing and want to be doing and yet I don’t want do it sometimes. It’s scary to know what needs to done, how to be soulful, or true, and to resist it. To still watch myself make lesser choices. There’s a fear in that weakness.

Joy: Is the fear of weakness because there is something you want to accomplish?

David: Yes, that’s the thing. That’s the being backed into a corner. This is it. One life now. This chance to live and understand how to be real and make the most of out this consciousness. That is the greatest gift of us.

To squander even a little bit is so terrifying. And to do yoga enough to know your squandering it and also to know that time is an illusion. Cause squandering time is based on thinking that there’s more it.

The amount of ignorance, avidya, that exists is terrifying.

There’s also a harm factor that’s scary to me. I do feel responsible for people and feel they are looking to me and it doesn’t always work out. That’s sad and hard and scary. I feel like a bad person. It’s one thing to blow it for myself but to have a hand it blowing it for someone else is horrible and then with Hatha Yoga there’s a physical harm factor aspect to it too.

I am afraid of people getting hurt.

We do a lot very challenging physical things and so I feel a great responsibility in trying to make sure it’s safe. I take the doctors credo to heart…first do no harm…but when you risk, when you put something as a teacher and as a student on the line.

There is danger there and that’s scary.

Joy: Do you have any other spiritual practice other than yoga?

David: That is a funny question because it has become so standard to practice another practice along side yoga like Buddhism and such. I don’t do anything like that but I embrace psychology.

I think that psychological work is essential to spiritual development.

Joy: What would you say to the yoga teacher who struggles incorporating the spiritual component to their teachings?

David:  I would say first it is important to be plainly realistic about what you can offer a student and in the beginning it is very physical. You learn about the postures in the most basic ways…and teach that to perfection and don’t worry about the bigger picture as a teacher.

And then slowly build that spiritual foundation within yourself and in your practice  and eventually more extensive teachings will come out of you naturally.

Want 15 free additional reads weekly, just our best?

Get our weekly newsletter.

Editor: Bryonie Wise



Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

David Garrigues  |  Contribution: 4,260