October 2, 2017

Nobody can Teach Yoga.

Dear yoga “teachers,”

I don’t “teach” yoga.

You don’t “teach” yoga.

We press people to grow, and then we let them go.

Press, and then release.
Press, and then release.
Press, and then release.

I’m learning that this is the practice of yoga—and the practice of life.

We’ve all heard that change is the only constant. We’ve heard it so much and so often that it’s become something we reflect on less and less. That’s the thing with anything designated as a universal truth—we accept it and give our minds permission to “just know” it without much contemplation.

For example, there is a universal belief that we “teach” yoga.

Here’s the thing though: change looks different for everyone. It’s about individual expansion and expression. Broadening our personal understanding of change and relating to it so we can make sense of our lives. If we stop at the idea that change is a universal constant, we risk losing the experiential “knowing” that is gained from deeper reflection.

So let’s pause now and ask ourselves:

Why have these changes occurred?
How have these changes influenced who I now am?
Where have these changes situated me in my life and in the world?

I’m a learner. I’m labeled a yoga “teacher,” but that’s not how I feel. I’ve always had a bit of an issue with calling myself a yoga teacher, answering to a yoga teacher, and writing “Registered Yoga Teacher” on my bios.

It’s taken me a long time to acknowledge that yoga practice, in all its forms, is an expressions of personal freedom. My role as a guide of the practice is to share what I’ve come to know through the finding of some of that freedom. I bring what I’ve found on my mat to my peers. I give myself permission to be vulnerable, and I try to be open and honest with others about those vulnerabilities. It’s taken me a year to scratch the surface of truthful living.

My role, what I feel drawn to do, is to promote truthful living and support others in the inevitable changes that occur on this road to freedom. My role is not to “teach” this. I don’t think it can be taught. I don’t think we can “teach” others their own truth, nor should we try to.

So no, I don’t “teach” yoga. No one can “teach” yoga.

We practice yoga.

And then we bring the practice—with all its challenges, findings, feelings, and intentions—to others. And we share. We share so that others can discover what they need individually. It’s not a matter of showing or telling, it’s a matter of instigating curiosity and then relating to that curiosity through experiential “knowing,” which we’ve come to possess through our own engagement.

When I guide a yoga class, I gently push. I persuade those facing me to be honest with themselves. I strive to provide an environment of nourishment and safety, one which inspires self-acceptance. Through honest being, my intention is to unveil vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness.

As guides (not teachers) of yoga, we do weighty, intense, influential work that can be life-altering. We agree to be constantly exposed. And in the midst of that exposure, we attempt to support others in loving themselves at a time when we’ve been told to do anything but.

The world has marked vulnerability as a weakness and sensitivity as a trait that warrants inferiority. And it’s this changed world that makes us vulnerable and then tells us to keep that vulnerability locked up. “Keep your damages and your vulnerabilities to yourself.”

I hold vulnerabilities. I think a lot people come to yoga because they’re vulnerable. I am sensitive. I think a lot of people come to yoga because they’re sensitive. I am disconnected with my body. I think a lot of people come to yoga because they feel disconnected with their body. I am dealing with change all the time. I think a lot of people come to yoga because they’re trying to make sense of the continual and consistent change in their lives.

Yoga helps us see our vulnerabilities as more than damages. It helps us to see them as badges of honor symbolizing all the struggles we’ve managed to triumph over. Yoga encourages us to see vulnerability as a mark of our humanity. It helps us to stand taller than we would have if we hadn’t faced the mistakes and challenges that granted us our vulnerabilities in the first place.

Yoga allows us to move with change.

This is something I have come to “know” purely through experience. The only person who was able to “teach” me this was (and continues to be) myself.

Press, and then release.

This is mimicking of all that we face in life. Chaos fills us and then it passes. Things change. Life throws us pressure, and eventually, it releases. We learn to trust the process—to trust change. We learn to trust ourselves. We learn that struggle is part of the process. But that it is not incessant. Not only is struggle incapable of persevering, but it’s weak in comparison to human potential.

And we “teach” ourselves this through experience. Unity of body, mind, and spirit individually; seeing our own vulnerabilities as influencers of balance and growth.

The practice is an endearing metaphor for life and each of our lives is different. I guide and stimulate inquisition so that my peers can find freedom of being on their mat. So that they learn from themselves.

I gently apply pressure, and then I release. And after the release, I invite strength.

Ask these questions to understand the changes you’ve endured and are moving through:

>> Why have the changes occurred?

>> How have the changes influenced who I now am?

>> Where have the changes situated me in my life, and in the world?

Change handed me my vulnerabilities, then made me hide from them, and then made me face them. Change brought me to the practice, to all of you, and to experiential “knowing.” And all of that is evolving, morphing, growing—change is happening now.

That’s what, how, and why I practice yoga.

It’s what, how, and why I guide.

It’s what, how, and why I live the way I do.

It’s what, how, and why I don’t “teach” yoga.


Author: Robyn Phillips
Image: The Yoga People/Flickr
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Travis May

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