Be a student first

You’ve been taking yoga classes for a few months.  You enjoy the stretching, the movement, the music.  You enjoy being around people who are interested in yoga and meditation and mindful living.  You enjoy that experience of calm and centeredness you feel when you lie down in savasana after a long, challenging vinyasa class.  You are hooked on yoga.

You love yoga so much that you decide that you want to enroll in a yoga teacher training program.  However, before you drop $3,000 on becoming a yoga teacher, consider the following quote.

“If you want to learn something, read about it.  If you want to understand something, write about it.  If you want to master something, teach it.”-Yogi Bhajan

The above quote gives some guidance on how to discern whether becoming a yoga teacher is the best option in exploring the practice of yoga.

  1. If you want to learn something, read about it.
    1. Read one book on yoga from beginning to end, three times, before you even think about signing up for a yoga teacher training program.
      1. I would recommend you pick one of the classics:
        1. Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
        2. Ashtanga Yoga Practice Manual by David Swenson
        3. The Elements of Yoga by Godfrey Devereux
      2. Two personal favorites of mine are:
        1. Ashtanga Yoga As It Is by Matthew Sweeney
        2. Dynamic Yoga by Godfrey Devereux
      3. You may have taste several books before you find one that is genuinely interesting, well-written and informative.  When you find this book, chew it – take notes, re-read passages, meditate upon it.
      4. Once you have chewed the book’s contents, then you can digest it – how do you apply what you have read to your practice, to the classes you attend?  How can you evaluate a class based upon the principles you read about in the book?
    2. Read Yoga Body by Mark Singleton so you are presented with a historical treatment of the origin of the physical practice.
    3. Read whatever book the founder of the style you are interested in has written.
    4. Reading the books slowly and repeatedly will give you background on what yoga is, where it comes from, and what it involves.  You need intellectual context so that you can assimilate the material in a teacher training program.
  2. If you want to understand something, write about it.
    1. For each book that you read on yoga, it is helpful to actually write a short essay about what you learned.  You can also take detailed notes on the different aspects of the style or method you are learning.  Writing is the physical act of chewing and digesting and making manifest what you have read, in your own words.
    2. Keep practice notes, recording what you did, how you felt, and any interesting ideas or revelations you have had about your practice.  This way, you are beginning to organize your experience of the practice into articulate structures.
    3. Write questions about your practice.  Ask your teacher to see if he or she can shed some light on your questions.  Write down their answers and then compare them to whatever conclusions you have arrived at on your own.
  3. If you want to master something, then teach it.
    1. Before you master something, you must practice it.  To master something, you must practice for a long time, putting in a lot of hard work and effort.  Learning and practicing anything – yoga, music, dance – is not easy.  It is not natural.  It requires discipline, consistency, and commitment.
    2. In order to teach something, you must have mastered it yourself first.  You have to practice something in order to know how to articulate it to someone else.  You have to practice it consistently enough that you know how to be concise and precise when teaching someone a posture.  Your understanding of a posture or a practice or a style will be based upon your own observations grounded in your experience.
    3. Finally, how do you know when you have mastered something?  By what standard – internal or external – do you determine how accomplished you are?  In some ways, mastery implies interaction with a master – you need the outside perspective of a teacher to evaluate how you are doing something.  You need feedback.  It is not uncommon for students to think they are doing a posture or a practice correctly, only to be told that they need to focus on the more fundamental elements of a practice – the sequence, the breathing, the way in which the student performs the sequence.

If you read this post and then apply the suggestions to your own practice, you will notice that it will take a lot longer for you to reach a point at which you feel ready to enroll in a teacher training.  There’s no rush.

One of the sad realities of the yoga industry is that the marketplace is saturated.  There are too many teachers, too many studios, too many training programs, too many styles, too many retreats and workshops.  With too much supply, the teachers suffer: lower pay, longer hours, scattered schedules, low job security, arduous work practices, and lack of respect among others.  With too much supply, the students suffer: lack of qualified teachers, studios without a clear message, money-hungry businesspeople making yoga into a commodity, yoga studio communities closing due to competition and high rent, high turnover in teachers and studios.  I’ve been there, I’ve been a participant, I’ve seen the best and the worst of this industry.  A friend of mine recently reminded me to find the good in the yoga world, to not let the negative experiences cloud over the genuine benefits that people get from these practices.  I am grateful for his suggestion and shedding light on where I was not seeing clearly.

Be a student first.  Taste the yoga styles which appeal to you.  Chew on the ones you like.  Digest them.  Read, study, and reflect on your experiences.  Support the teachers who are really good – be their greatest evangelists.  Support your local studios – find the ones where you feel at home, and then become a member.  Bring your friends.

The most common reasons yoga studio owners feel compelled to offer a teacher training program is to compete with other studios and to increase revenue because of low membership numbers.  How can this be changed?  Help yoga studios gain more members.  The world may be able to handle another yoga teacher, but the yoga studio you go to desperately needs more members.  Ask any studio owner, and if they are honest, they will admit that student numbers are lower than ever because a studio is popping up on the corner every other day.

Be a student first before you decide to become a teacher.  Because the best teachers remain students all of their lives.



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