What do your yoga teachers look like?
Perhaps they are slim, lean, muscular women or men with a serene looks on their faces and an air of ease as they perform even the most difficult asanas.
Let’s erase our expectations created by this image from our minds. None of the aforementioned characteristics are required for someone to become a yoga instructor.
Nicolai Bachman expressed this sentiment beautifully when he wrote:
“In fact, even those who are inflexible can be experts in asana if they are exerting sincere effort and understand their bodies and limitations.”
Even the physically disabled can become valuable teachers and guides. Yoga is so much more than the perception of a perfect asana practice.
Right now, I’m going through training at a wonderful center in Dallas, hoping that I’ll one day be able to lead others as they dive deeper into their understanding of themselves and the world around them. There are 12 other students in my class.
What I’ve noticed however, is that these individuals are not wiser than others. They aren’t special or remarkable simply for wanting to guide others. What makes them remarkable is their openness to learn and their humility in the face of what may appear to be asana practice shortcomings. None of us are perfect and it shows in our poses.
Our unique physical shortcomings form an honest tapestry. When my pelvis refuses to open or my shoulder responds with limited rotator cuff mobility, it provides us with a point of reference. We begin to understand what the human body needs. These lessons create a buffer, protecting us from injuring our students and teaching us how to approach broken bodies. A new mindset takes hold and we begin to move with our students instead of outshining them in a spotlight of physical accomplishment.
Four months ago, I could barely leave the house. I have multiple autoimmune disorders and live with constant pain. My condition is so advanced that I am being treated with chemotherapy drugs. There are certain asanas that my physical limitations do not allow. However, my mentor encouraged me to pursue becoming a teacher because she understands what many of us have forgotten. In this fad yoga world where the workout is the extent of a student’s exposure to yoga, we have forgotten the ashtanga (eight limbs of yoga).
I practice daily surrounded by both healthy and unhealthy bodies. To offer thorough teaching, we must understand the physical, emotional and spiritual limbs of the practice. Otherwise, we are offering our students an empty physical workout every time they approach the mat in our classes.
Yoga improves the lives of others, so why would we not expect to teach students with severe physical handicaps? Should it surprise us to meet teachers with limiting physical ailments? Mindfulness deepens our practice revealing the importance of seeing beyond the physical.
As aspiring yoga teachers, we are doing ourselves and our future students a disservice if we attempt to project perfection. Students with physical disabilities, mental handicaps, and other weaknesses will continue to feel alienated and avoid our classes unless we understand Bachman’s words. Our humility connects us with students we might not otherwise meet.
Next time you think of a yoga teacher, try and imagine a man in a wheelchair or a woman who walks with a limp. All around you, there are future yogis just waiting for us to show them that their disabilities are welcome in our classes. Perfection is not a necessity, it is not even a worthy goal to pursue. Sincerity is.
Author: Maraliz Campos
Apprentice Editor: Jill Cimasko Berte-Renou / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Kevin Dinkel