I feel like I’ve entered a time travel machine. With only one more weekend left of yoga teacher training, it’s hard to believe that it has been five months since we began.
So immediate is my recollection of January 29th; Christian and myself squinting into the Saturday afternoon sun, swaying our arms in vrksasana (tree pose) to the Beatles tune All You Need Is Love. It was the day of the Joyful Yoga Flashmob and along with about 50 other participants, our brave and perhaps trepidatious teacher trainees joined us in our common goal: to bring an awareness of yoga into the community.
If they were uncertain as to what they were getting themselves into that day, they were generously open to my symbolic stance that their part in the flashmob project was a literal and localized representation of what they were going to ultimately offer. In working hard through svadhyaya (self-study) and abhyasa (practice), they were to eventually graduate from the 200hr teacher training program and take yoga off of their mat, out of the studio and into other areas of their life.
Sometimes being a yoga teacher manifests as teaching asana (poses), pranayama (breath work) and meditation techniques. Sometimes being a yoga teacher means listening to someone’s struggles with compassion and only offering advice if they ask for it. Many times, being a yoga teacher means getting up throughout the night to comfort a sick toddler; canceling your massage appointment so you can drive your ailing father to the cardiologist; or skipping your yoga class in order to stop and see if you can be of some assistance to the woman on the side of the road who’s tire has gone flat. In many circumstances, teaching yoga has nothing to do with being an actual asana teacher.
That first weekend module of the teacher training I asked the question “What is yoga?” Every answer offered was absolutely correct: union, breathing, meditation, helping others, compassion, balance, relationships, etc. And yes, finding steady and joyful seats in the physical body–the poses (asanas.)
Yoga is every relationship experienced within the field of life. Yoga is everything and everywhere. Headstand is no more a yogic experience than standing firmly in your feet and resolutely maintaining your ground when someone is trying to convince you to do something that flies in the face of your intuition. Yoga is life.
As this cycle of teacher training rapidly comes to a close, I hope that this magnificent group of fifteen whom I have been blessed to share some of my own insights with will continue on their yogic path. If my team’s job was done well, these budding teachers will have adequate tools to draw upon. Regardless of whether they intend to deepen their practice of instructing asana, pranayama and meditation in a class setting or if they have simply made a deeper connection to the truth of who they are and intend to utilize that understanding to reveal a deeper truth in their relationships.
Sometimes the process of self-study and ultimately, self realization, can drag one through the muck, it can be downright uncomfortable, even painful to peel the layers, soften the samskaras (psychic patterns) and get to that formative core of the truest essence of the self. However, the reward of doing the work is the seedling of immediate growth and the continued possibility of further growth.
In this way, everyone who has gone through the teacher training curriculum with willingness and honesty is a yoga teacher indeed. Regardless of final scores on tests or how many studio classes end up being taught by the trainees after graduation, they have begun to transform their understanding of themselves and their relationships and, in turn, if their intentions are pure and they come from a place of love, they are teachers to those who’s lives they enter. Plain and simple.
It’s clear to me now that the yoga flashmob foreshadowed this teacher training experience even more than the initial metaphor I had proposed. Yes, the literal act of spilling yoga asana off the mat and into the streets of Coconut Point is still representative of yoga teachers heading out into their individual microcosms to touch the lives of those whom they encounter. But now, even more resounding in my mind is the refrain “All You Need Is Love” that echoed within the terracotta architecture on that day. These lyrics remind me that everything else will come with practice; the fluid sequencing, the Sanskrit, the deep meditations, the arm balances, the more resilient relationships, the centeredness, the clarity in purpose and precision in articulation. These will come in time, but are not necessarily the one imperative that you need.
A couple months ago, Shari Friedrichsen, one of my teachers from the Himalayan Institute said something that resonated with me deeply when she paraphrased the institute’s spiritual head, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait Ph.D.: “How can you expect your students to learn if you don’t love them?”
It is my hope that this group did learn, as I have come to love each one of them deeply. And it is now my hopeful intention that they pay it forward with students of their own.