Yoga. We've read hundreds of articles and wonderfully elaborated captions on social media, explaining that it is not just about fancy yoga postures but it's a way of life. That it is a union of one's mind, body, and soul with the divine. Unfortunately, many are still teaching yoga through bikini photos and acrobatic movements. The essence of the practice had been misled, causing new practitioners to start their practice from a distorted perspective of Yoga.
Being in the teaching scene for almost two decades, I've witnessed the evolution of the industry and sadly, feeling depressive that it is moving towards a chase for an unhealthy desire for fame and worship by followers. If it wasn't because of social media, perhaps it would be less dramatic and the ugliness can be concealed while we remain ignorant, sweating blissfully on our mats.
I remember when I was a young practitioner, I came to know about the existence of English speaking clan vs the Mandarin-speaking clan in the studio that I was practicing in. There was an indirect competition that was going on between these 2 clans, recruiting followers and disciples. I found this extremely ridiculous but somehow I got sucked into the mandarin clan as at that time, I was a regular student who attended the classes taught by the teacher who was leading the clan.
I eventually got into his yoga teacher training course although I couldn't read a single mandarin character. I did it to support his new adventure into teacher training so I requested an English version of the manual but it turned out to be a different manual, and I had to do a lot of self-reading and research throughout the entire course duration. I guess it was a blessing in disguise.
Also, in that course, our Pranayama teacher was from India and because this was the ONLY class with an English-speaking teacher, I got fully absorbed into the theories and practices of Pranayama.
My teaching journey unexpectedly began, 2 weeks after I graduated from the course. I was assigned to a studio with English speaking community which were mainly working professionals who came in to seek relaxation and peace. However, I realized that my knowledge was insufficient to meet their needs and to satisfy the wonders of my mind.
When I was assigned to teach asana-driven classes, I felt exhausted from teaching something that didn't come true from my heart but only to satisfy my students' craving for a yoga 'workout'. I was teaching aerobics and gymnastics and often clad in branded yoga wear to make my presence felt and to fit in. I was very uncomfortable although I had quite a lot of regular 'followers' back then, I often went to bed feeling unfulfilled and dumb. The ideas that I had and learned about Yoga earlier were irrelevant and that drove me to seek the truth.
I consulted the clan leader and he advised me to teach whatever the students wanted and that I should create an image of a high-class yoga teacher. Once I've gained their acceptance and trust, I can then slowly change their mindset. I was not convinced at all and believed that there has to be a better way. I wanted to be honest with my students and with myself.
Some time in this chapter of my life, I found a teacher who at first was very kind to me and offered me some guidance to deepen my spiritual practice. I was lured into discipleship training but pulled out when I found out that my personal information had been compromised and my faithfulness manipulated.
I eventually took some time off from the local scene and backpacked my way to Thailand and India. After a few months, I returned home feeling refreshed, full of hopes, and with a new mission. I want to share the true essence of Yoga.
I remember I wore baggy fisherman pants and a simple T-shirt to class. My slippers were humble and flat. I sometimes forgot to wear them when I leave the studio and only realized that I was walking barefoot when I saw someone else with shoes. Rumors had it that I've lost my mind and students asked why was I wearing 'like this?' and what happened to me? They expected that I should have returned with more fancy and strong practices to teach them. The number of my students gradually lessened until a year later, I came to terms with this reality and understood that I had to find a balance between packaging and being myself.
There are a few things that impacted me greatly throughout my quest to become a better teacher and a better person. I can't share all of my stories here but I want to share with you the values that have been guiding me throughout my journey. Values that I've been reminding myself of from time to time until today, especially when I caught myself getting derailed or distracted by the influence of social media - that I had to be in a certain way to be a successful yoga teacher.
These values were inspired by Patanjali's Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita.
1. Satya (Honesty) – that I shall be true to the teachings of yoga, to myself, and my students.
2. Sincerity – teach from my heart, not for the Likes.
3. Ahimsa (Non-violence) and Harmony – by doing what is right where no one should be harmed including me.
4. Quiet time for self-reflections, clarity of mind, and vision.
5. Create future generations of authentic teachers.
These were based on my personal experiences. I want you to understand that no one can judge your practice and how you teach. What is important are your values and intention. Taking the seat of teaching is not an easy task but it will be easier if you're teaching from your heart.
Someone once asked me, can everyone become a yoga teacher? I answered 'Yes! If she's teaching something that she's passionate about and with sincerity. At the end of the day, question yourself, are you happy, and have you served your purpose well?".
What is the why behind everything you do? When we know this in life and design, it is very empowering and the path is clear. – Jack Canfield.