Teaching Yoga: Keeping It Real.

Via on Jul 16, 2012

Teaching Yoga: Keeping it Real

Because yoga is a spiritual practice, being a yoga teacher can set you up as the “expert” on all things spiritual, emotional, physical and mental, whereas in reality, you simply teach—wait for it…

a s a n a.

No one had to sign an agreement when they graduated from yoga teacher training that said they must now serve as their students’ spiritual leader or guru. We teach people postures and occasionally some historical teachings that apply to being alive in the modern world.

Yet, students (and teachers) often erroneously assume that because you are an asana teacher, you are not only supposed to know the secrets of the Universe, but that you should always be happy, a spiritual role model and, oh yeah, unconditionally loving and peaceful.

If you buy into these assumptions about yoga teachers, it is very easy to get sucked into the trap of having to be “perfect.”

When I first started teaching, I mistakenly “bought my own hype” (as Seane Corn recently described this behavior in yogis). I let students put me on a “pedestal.”  The projections were there, and instead of fighting them, I let them pressure me into acting flawless. This had consequences.

I never let down my guard, so students were often disappointed or completely disillusioned if I was having a rough day, or if I was going through a tough period.

This created a distance, and made students feel intimidated by me, which was the last thing I wanted.

After some humbling experiences born out of students’ inevitable and understandable disenchantment with me when they learned that I was far from perfect, I learned that it takes much less energy (prana) to actually be real around my students, than to try to maintain the façade of some holy saint.

It became a practice to soften and share my humanity, to take responsibility when I made a mistake, to admit my ignorance, and most importantly, to be genuinely interested in student’s lives.

The result of this shift has been powerful.  Relationships with students are closer, students have become more committed to the journey, and the community has expanded.

As teachers, we are not “other” than our students, we are all experiencing the same Universal energy—just in different ways.

On the other hand…

Does the fact that you are just an “asana teacher” and not a spiritual leader give you full license to be a hedonistic schmuck?

Let’s put it this way: Would you want your coach, doctor or therapist to have questionable ethics such as being dishonest, stealing or sleeping with their patients or clients? And more importantly, would the professional institutions from which they received their degrees or licenses think this was fine?

Should professional yoga asana teachers be any different? Just because they are yoga teachers, should they be held to a different standard than doctors or therapists?

Newsflash: Having a spiritual practice and being psychologically mature are not mutually exclusive.

Yoga is not the be-all-end-all practice for living a masterful life.  However, living a masterful life is yoga.

Modalities such as psychotherapy, bodywork, cardiovascular exercise and good medical care all help us live life more adeptly in ways that yoga alone cannot provide.

There are no hard or fast rules, but my hunch is that the yoga world would benefit greatly from its asana teachers being real, telling the truth about their liabilities, and getting the support and supervision they need to skillfully practice the Yamas and Niyamas in and out of the classroom.

If you teach yoga, fortify yourself with good outlets, such as therapy once a week or bi-monthly, getting out in nature, and daily cardiovascular exercise to help you blow off steam.  Bolster yourself up with coaching to help stay accountable to your family, your dreams and your goals.

Keep it real for yourself. Keep it real for your students—who are waiting for your authentic teaching.

~

Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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About Amy Ippoliti

Amy is a yoga teacher, writer, and philanthropist. She is known for her innovative methods to bridge the gap between ancient yoga wisdom and modern day life. Amy is a pioneer for advanced yoga education serving both students as well as fellow yoga teachers. She co-founded 90Monkeys.com, an online professional development school that has enhanced the skills of yoga teachers and studios in 43 countries around the globe. She has graced the covers of Yoga Journal and Fit Yoga Magazine and has been featured in Yoga International, Self, Origin Magazine, New York Magazine, Yogini Magazine (Japan), Allure (Korea), Elephant Journal, intent.com, and many more. Amy is a faculty member at the Omega Institute, Esalen and Kripalu. She is a regular presenter at the Yoga Journal Conferences, Omega Institute Conference, Wanderlust Festivals, and The Hanuman Festival. Since the age of 14 Amy has been a champion of all forms of eco-consciousness, animal conservation and more recent forays into marine conservation. Website: amyippoliti.com . Hang with Amy on Facebook: AmyIppolitiPage Talk to Amy on Twitter: @Amy-Ippoliti Pin with Amy on Pinterest and share your pics with her on Instagram.

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29 Responses to “Teaching Yoga: Keeping It Real.”

  1. David says:

    Great article! My experience is that your hunch is spot on. And I love the line about 'living a masterful life is yoga'. The opportunity we have right now with yoga is not, as you point out, that it is the only 'way' – it is it's reach, the sheer volume of people practicing, and with the right attitudes we can turn that reach into authentic impact! Jai!

    • kim amlong says:

      Living a Masterful life means one is connected enough to the Whole that they abide by Ahimsa. Any yoga teacher that is aligned with Ahimsa would refuse to teach at a yoga festival that serves meat, fish and every other animal secretion. Sean Hoess, Co-founder of Wanderlust said: “If we can get to a place where even a majority of our consumers are educated enough to forego all meat, then I will happily convert Wanderlust to a vegetarian event.” Be a Force of Positive Change For the World. Help Create the World’s Greenest, Most Consciousness-Awakening Festival. Ask Wanderlust to Go Vegetarian Today or Sign the Petition To Say No To Meat at Yoga Festivals. Countless Sentient Beings Will Thank You. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/973/236/055/say-no

  2. Right on Amy!

    Way to rock the truth! It sets us all free…to be ourselves – teachers and students alike!

  3. Lindsay says:

    I totally love this. It’s so amazing when teachers are real with their students and it does transform the practice for everyone! Thanks Amy for this insightful and important article!

  4. Sadie Nardini says:

    Great piece, Amy.

    The teachers I resonate with most are those who offer me their personal perspectives on how the process of yoga–on any level, physical or otherwise–has helped them become more mindful and suffer less in their own lives. There's a huge difference between sharing one's individual, human experience of applying the yogic principles to our everyday struggles, or growth, and the yogier-than-thou attitude of those who think that the guru is not within everyone, but only in them.

    When teachers 'get real', as you urge, they wind up living by example more, and students are attracted to their authenticity and transparency, I know I am. I think there is really no separation between the lessons we learn physically and the shifts we can then use those lessons make in other aspects of our lives. It's a rare teacher who can use one to invite us deeper into the rest, without being overbearing. Thanks for reminding us all of this today.

    xoSadie

    • Sheila says:

      Hi Sadie, I find it interesting that you are responding to this particular article. I once was in your class and found myself perplexed by your teaching. I will be honest, I did not find you real. I do not say that with any malice as it was coming from my perspective. At the time I used my experience with you to discover what I may have need to learn about my own authenticity. You were merely mirroring my own insecurity about living my truth.

      Thanks for sharing, I wish you lots of peace on the path…

  5. fantastic amy! I love too how you and Sadie (via the comment above) are connected in this article. I've chosen to study with both of you for the very reasons you outline here. Rock on!

  6. Jenna Jeantet says:

    This is so great Amy, a really important message for our entire community of yoga teachers (and students) to hear. After spending some time you few weeks ago back at Esalen, I can see that this writing is absolutely your truth in the way you connect with yogis around you. A lot of teachers do subconsciously allow themselves to be placed on a pedestal, making them much hard to relate to. Being relatable as a leader is a core value, and allows authentic relationships and teachings to follow. Thank you for reminding yogis everywhere of this!

    Jenna

  7. Era says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Amy :) I enjoyed reading it.

  8. Hit the nail on the proverbial head! :)

  9. Christy Nones says:

    Love this tremendously Amy. So true an it calls out people om both sides of the spectrum: students who lose themselves in the teachings and teachers who lose their humility in the process of teaching. Fantastic amd true – like you sister!

  10. Very true, and well said. As always Amy, you encourage and inspire me to continue to grow and improve as a yoga teacher. Thank you, I love you! ~Sarah Badorine, sending love from Marin County, Ca.

  11. [...] As a new teacher, you will be most likely attracting students who are new to yoga as well. You do not need to wow them, knock their socks off, or hit a home run. Some teachers feel as if they have to throw the entire [...]

  12. Tomasz Goetel [Hot Yoga] says:

    Wise words, very well said. Thank you.

  13. Lalana says:

    I am seeing this now at such the right time it is just amazing me. Today I shared in regards to my mom passing today. As I let my students know that I would not be having classes through rest of week to leave for funeral I really was curious on if I should not mention my loss and situation. I toyed with thought on just saying I was taking time off or saying what had happened. I chose to say what happened and work in to my lesson plan for all my classes today. I thought at once to keep to myself but it did help me convey for my classes today how cherishing the little things and the breath and telling those you love how you appreciate them are so needed:)

  14. hazel says:

    wow I am shocked by this article and the responses to it. I am presuming they are from the US? I live and work teaching yoga in the UK and have never been anything but myself during teaching and learning insecurities and all I share with my students my knowledge and my path and they with me. I don't teach just asana and never have just asana is not yoga. I'm just quite shocked that anyone involved in teaching yoga wouldn't feel the need to be anything but real or find it so amazing that anyone needs to be reminded to be real and that people reading this would find it such an amazing idea,

    • Anne says:

      Hazel – agree with you – I am a Yoga Teacher in South Africa. I also train Yoga Teachers with the aim of them becoming much, much more than Asana facilitators. Patanjali's Sutras, especially the eigt-fold path in chapter 2, must be totally understood and Yoga Teachers encouraged to LIVE these principles. If this is integrated into life then one cannot be anything but authentic in one's Yoga Teaching.

      So thanks to Amy for the input and honesty, keep on being "real' and please get deeply into those Sutras with contemplative awareness.

  15. Claudia Jurado says:

    Thank you Amy. I enjoy your transparency.
    I have been a yoga student for 11 years….I have had my share of teachers. Even more than the teachers' asanas skills, their flexibility or words of wisdom, I remember how they make me feel. That is kindness and you can't fake that!

  16. Pedestals are for statues, teachers, leaders, etc. walk on the Earth just like the rest of us. A yoga teacher is (hopefully) better at yoga than me and/or at least able to help me better my own practice. But just a person, I'd no more assume they are better at anything beyond that than I'd assume that because my plumber is better at fixing the toilet than I am, makes them a spiritual leader.

    But I've never gotten the guru-centric, power assigning vision of the teacher/student relationship that so many seem to go for. Teachers teach, plumbers plumb (?) – not needing nor should there be granting them of power or assumptions of wisdom beyond that. Not to diss their skill nor disrepect in what they teach/do but no extra baggage please.

  17. Livia says:

    nice one amy…you know how much i appreciate the psychotherapy shout out. yoga is not the be all end all of the psychotherapeutic process.

  18. Kristine says:

    Thank you for sharing this Amy. I have been employing these ideas in my own teaching over the past few years and it has been tremendously freeing. ~Kristine

  19. Agamemnon says:

    Note the term "Asana Teacher" used in this article. This is a term that was born out of the John Friend scandal. I predict that we will hear it used more and more. One of the deeply embedded traits of Anusara yogis, whether they have renounced their allegiance or not, is the impulse to control language. Controlling language coalesces power and movements are formed. Look into any organized movement anywhere, good or bad and you will find a codified language among it's adherents. Take care in the languages you learn, whether you learn them by design or by default.

  20. Orly says:

    I fully agree with the article- keeping it real. I teach yoga privately , customizing the " building blocks for a healthy life style" . It is so important to understand the wisdom that can be shared with the student/s. Before every class I teach that we must accept that we are not the ultimate power, if we were- we probably wouldn't be here. All we are learning is that life, has big and small waves, our job is to learn how to swim.  That includes all the aspects for a balanced life, isn't that what yoga is all about?

    Namaste
    Orly

  21. [...] Teaching Yoga: Keeping It Real [...]

  22. [...] down temperamental and hysterical. Your practice and your God have forsaken me, I am sure of it. If one more yoga teacher in spandex tells me that the answers are within then I am going to quit this introspection on the mat bullshit because clearly it is not working! [...]

  23. [...] audience, and they are waiting for you to “teach” and guide them. You step into the space of teaching, where you have to become fully present because “checking out” is not an [...]

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