January 31, 2011

The Post-Yoga Teacher Training Blues.

Photo Credit: Tamara Davidson

The end of an intense experience is usually accompanied by feelings of sadness, bittersweet relief, anticipation, and, if one is fortunate enough, a sense of accomplishment and completion. Since the conclusion of my 200-hour teacher training program at Laughing Lotus, I have cycled through each of these mental and emotional layers, and several more.

After three months, one week, two hundred hours, dozens of meetings, teaching workshops, a physical exam, and a lengthy written exam, I am certified to instruct yogasana. Now that this foundational experience has come to a close, my fellow students and I are left to wonder what it means to be a teacher. How does one become an authentic vessel for these traditions in everyday modern life? How does one maintain a dedicated practice post-training?

The Laughing Lotus training asked its students to commit at least twenty hours a week to our studies. Our friends and families became accustomed to hearing us utter things like, “I have  to go to class/a workshop/a five-hour anatomy session/a five-hour pre-natal lesson”, etc. No longer did our loved ones perceive yoga practice as negotiable. It was a requirement because we were in a program. But we have been graduated, delivered back to the real world, and daily sadhana is more of a choice now than ever before.

In his Ganesh-themed dharma talk at the 2010 Estes Park Yoga Journal Conference, Richard Freeman commented on “yoga as escapism”. Without the safety net of a yogi satsang, integrating a committed yoga practice with the ins and outs of reality can be incredibly challenging. There is the risk of denying worldly responsibilities and using “yoga as avoidance of relationship”, and there is also the risk of dropping the practice altogether. Furthermore, there is the looming possibility that you will in fact “forget” everything you’ve learned, and revert back to the patterns you had been attempting to reroute. Evolving out of a teacher training comes along with a whole flurry of what-if’s – what if I can’t practice for two hours a day, every day? What if I forget to meditate tomorrow morning? What if my teaching is inprecise or ineffective? What if, after all that time and money and effort, I never feel like a teacher?

If I learned anything over the course of this training, it is that knowledge of the practice is a lifelong pursuit. Although rewards may appear along the way, they are typically aspects of a material, transient, ego-based experience – and if you find yourself attached to the idea of a payoff, you’re missing the point.

Upon reflection, I realize that I did expect some immediate reward to emerge from my time in Love Skool. I wanted to feel different the minute I received my certificate. I wanted to feel confidently equipped, skilled and knowledgeable, and ready to take on this identification of teacher.

However, the reality of my current situation reveals how this journey is different for each person who chooses to embark upon it. I haven’t any idea when I will feel comfortable referring to myself as a teacher, and I have yet to fully comprehend my potential as a carrier of these traditions. I am in awe of my fellow practitioners and the teachers who trained me – how, I wonder, do these people instruct with such grace and ease? But now that I am in the position to teach, I am even more bewildered as to how to go about it.

Many have advised me to just teach – don’t fret and don’t delay. I would say the same thing if I were coaching myself. But like most other things in my life that I care deeply about, I’m overanalyzing this process. Despite acquiring a language of organic, self-generating transformation, I am still quite mired in the intellectual ins-and-outs of becoming.

The primary question remains, what makes a yoga teacher? There has been plenty of debate about this of late (rebel yogi(ni)s and the commercialization/de-spiritualization of yoga), and it’s an issue worthy of serious contemplation by old-guard and new-guard yoga instructors alike. I grapple with my own judgements about flashy, business-savvy yoga folks, and because of these hang-ups, I am very self-conscious about being inauthentic or disrespectful in any way. For now, the avoidance of inauthenticity or disrespect means refraining from referring to myself as a teacher until I have several years of teaching under my belt and at least a handful of dedicated students. And yet, I know that I must begin somewhere in order to ever get there – wherever there is.

A little over six months ago, while I was still living in Portland, I had a very illuminating conversation with an actor and playwright named Nathan. I was talking to him about these points of divergence and convergence in my life that, most of the time, seemed so irreconcilable. I want to be a writer; I want to teach yoga; I want to grow my own food; I want to live in a city. I was expressing a desire for union and integration, first and foremost, as well as a sense of when will I be able and when will I be ready? When will I feel like a writer? Like a yogi? Like an adult who is making strides and building a life?

Nathan imparted, in his characteristically eloquently blunt manner: no one is going to let you know when you are ready. You’re waiting for someone to point to you and say hey, now you can do this, now you can do that, now you can call yourself a writer. The same goes for anything else. You’re the only one who’s going to know what you can do and when you are ready to do it, and it’s your responsibility to let other people know when that time comes.

Nathan’s words of wisdom have proven highly applicable, not only to yogic inquiries, but to broader life quandaries. Remembering that it is you who defines your experience is a struggle, but it is a struggle that offers innumerable opportunities for self-reflection and spiritual growth. Clearly I cannot claim to have completely integrated this lesson into my everyday method of being, but it is one of my most important post-teacher training practices by far.

No one is judging you as harshly as you are judging yourself. There is no way to quantify the terrific vibrancy of one’s spirit. Although I do believe there should be standards and a degree of reverence when it comes to teaching asana, pranayama and meditation, it will ultimately be your own unreasonable standards that stunt your evolution in any area of your life – not the standards imposed upon you by anyone else. Simply put: get out of your own way.
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