A while ago I met a young woman who had just become a yoga teacher.
When she learned that I also teach, she said, “Oh, where did you do your teacher training?”
My mind went blank for a moment (which was a blessing in itself). It was such a bizarre way for me to think of my journey of practicing yoga. I suppose I had been training to be a teacher since my first class 22 years ago, and I have indeed received numerous “certificates” that show in black-and-white that I am qualified to share the practice with others.
But this young woman seemed to have a very different idea of “teacher training.” To her, it evoked images of a program designed to share a skill-set, culminating with a letter of authorization. To me, it represents years of pilgrimage and practice spanning nearly half of my life.
People are often surprised to hear my reply when they ask me if I have recommendations on yoga teacher training courses.
I don’t recommend yoga teacher trainings.
Before you dismiss me, hear me out. I’m not saying don’t ever do one. I’m saying don’t go looking for one just for the sake of doing a teacher training or to get a certificate that says you can teach. You don’t need a piece of paper to teach. You need students. And experience.
If you have been studying with a teacher that you know, love and respect, and they offer a teacher training then, by all means, do it. You’ve developed the relationship and you can always deepen your knowledge base. It’s good to have a mentor.
But if you have suddenly decided, after 20 years of practicing law, that you want to go get yourself a yoga teacher certification and embark on a new career, I say to you: Halt! Slow down, Betty.
The problem I see with aiming for a teacher training certificate is that it can instill a false sense of security: “I have the proof right here in black-and-white,” one may say.
But yoga is not about digesting information and dispensing instructions for healthy living. It is about developing a titanium relationship to your world in the present moment—adamantine, luminous and incredibly gentle—through dedicated practice and recognizing the limitless nature of that relationship. How can we learn that in a month-long program?
When I started teaching yoga it was purely circumstantial. People saw I was dedicated, and they wanted to learn. I never set out to become a teacher, and as a result, I’ve always looked to the practice to guide my teaching. And this is my point. Teaching should evolve naturally from circumstance—from the dedication we show to the practice and to people being inspired by what we do.
Are you ready to become a yoga teacher?
-You have the right motivation
-You have an ongoing practice and continue to learn
-You have done your own psychological work (meaning: you don’t look to your students to fulfill your needs)
-You feel inspired by what you teach
-You like helping others
-You don’t have an agenda for what your students will experience
-You are respectful to other approaches and schools
-You have confidence in your own relationship to practice, and not that of a system
-The universe conspires to create an opportunity
Many yoga schools have hit the dirt in recent years due to their leaders behaving in unsavoury ways. It’s unfortunate, and perhaps uncouth to mention, but it’s a reality. And if you are considering becoming a yoga teacher, then you should know this.
Because the fact is if you put all your eggs in one basket, sign the dotted line and create a franchise for your yoga school, and then the leader sexually abuses his students or there is foul play or questionable business practices and the school shuts, then you are S.O.L. That’s a whole lotta money you just wasted.
So I don’t recommend that.
Besides, joining a bandwagon is simply an invitation to dogmatism and fundamentalist ideology. I am more inspired by teachers who have developed their own style—not their own brands, but their own unique approach to these 5000-year-old practices.
In order to develop an individual style, one needs to have a deep understanding and an authentic experience of the practices.
There is a learning curve necessary to go through. It’s good to study with a lineage and learn the approach of that school. It’s good to know the texts: Yoga Sutra, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Shiva Samhita, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita.
But here’s the thing: yoga is a set of practices that allow a practitioner to explore and understand the mind. So any system that you try to impose on that exploration will inherently limit the possibilities by putting constraints on the view. It’s the “my view is better than your view” dilemma. And that’s what causes wars.
So after learning the system, or the posture, or the view, then (this is the big secret coming up) you have to let it go.
The only true thing is what’s happening right now.
Yoga can teach you to tune into that now with precision and grace, but only if you keep letting go of the past moment and being present for what comes next.
So if you are still inspired and on-board, that’s fantastic. Otherwise, don’t become a yoga teacher unless you have the dedication to explore your own relationship to practice over the long haul, regardless of what anyone else tells you.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Hannah Harris / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Courtesy of the Author