When can you say "I am a yoga teacher"? Is it when you pass your 200 hours TT? When you master pincha myarasana? Perhaps it’s when you teach your first class, or when you get your first pay cheque. Or is it when a student tells you how much they enjoy your teachings or when you develop a sizeable online following?
I’m on the aeroplane back from two weeks in sunny Goa and contemplating what it means that for the first time since I started teaching around 16 months ago, when asked that all-important question, “so, what do you do”, I replied, “I’m a yoga teacher”.
But what does it really mean to be a teacher? As a 30-year old teacher with less than two years’ experience I undoubtedly have much to learn. These past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of a week long retreat, practicing 5-6 hours a day with a beautiful teacher with almost 20 years’ experience as well as a number of other classes with mature and knowledgeable teachers, each with their own distinctive style and with much to offer their students.
I found myself asking how my own offering compares with these wonderful, experienced teachers. “I don’t know enough Sanskrit!” “I don’t know enough about the chakras or the energy body”. "I can’t do a handstand away from the wall”. “Sometimes I just want to be on my own." "I am soooooo selfish!”
On Friday, Imken, a Sama Yoga teacher (I'd never heard of this school of yoga but it's wonderful - slow mindful movement that challenges body and mind paired with cleansing Kriyas and sound work. Check it out! ) told us, “I am your student, you are my teachers. You are my students, I am your teacher. We learn from one another”.
I was reminded of an analogy from Judith Lasater's book Living Your Yoga, that we are not creating something new from our yoga practice – I am not building a house from the foundations up – rather, like a sculptor, I am removing the excess material to reveal the sculpture underneath. It was always there, waiting to be discovered.
In this way we are all teachers. Each with our own unique way of understanding and contemplating the true nature of self, and with the ability to learn, interpret and share techniques and practices that will bring us closer to unearthing that hidden treasure within.
Teach what you know.
I am who I am today. When I am 50 I will no doubt bring different teachings and experiences to my mat, to my students and to my life. But that is not to say that who I am now and the teachings I have to share today are less valuable. They’re just different. And that’s ok.
All of us are on our own paths. The twists and turns, highs and lows over time chip away piece by piece to reveal the sculpture beneath. Sometimes the essence of the sculpture is clear, other times it seems to be obscured. But it is always there. And for most of us the sculpting process is never complete. It’s a lifelong endevour.
As teachers we continue to learn from one another, and from our students with the aim of refining and enhancing the tools and skills we have so we can support one another with our sculptures.
So the lesson, I think, for myself and other new yoga teachers is to find joy in today, in this moment. Know that you are enough, right now, as you are, and that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. You are a yoga teacher...should you wish it.