It’s been my experience, both as a student and faculty of yoga teacher trainings, that teacher trainings have the side effect of stirring up lives, without fail. There’s something so profound about steeping in the information of yoga, a science and practice that is so deeply transformational, that it raises questions about what you love, what you value and what you really want for yourself in the years to come.
This steeping can feel both exciting and tormenting. With each day of learning that passes, you come closer to being let loose to teach, to taking decisive and public action on what you know (and don’t know), which ups the ante on the intensity of feelings.
I’ve observed that this is the place where yoga teacher trainers and students collude to try to get through the period of uncomfortable uncertainty that precedes being out on your own as a teacher.
Here’s what I mean: as a person in teacher training comes closer to beginning to teach their own classes, almost always there are feelings of doubt, insecurity and uncertainty. How do I really teach a class? What do I really want to say? What happens if I bomb?
Rather than directly addressing these questions, which at their core are about vulnerability, many teacher trainings spoon-feed information to be regurgitated. Some provide scripted sequences – or even scripted dialogues – to work with, and say if you stick to these scripts you’ll be fine. These are the teacher trainings where the person who designed it is creating, whether consciously or not, cookie-cutter versions of themselves to go forth into the world and do what they are already doing.
I believe this happens because of our core-level, very human dislike for any flavor of uncertainty. “It’s uncomfortable to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing? Here, let me give you the answer and tell you what to do.” Whether we’re offering advice to a friend in indecision or offering information to new teachers, we do this in part because we feel it’s the humane and kind thing to do, and in part because we can’t handle uncertainty and discomfort, regardless of whether it’s our own or whether it’s close to us.
Repeatedly, brand new teachers come to me and say, “I don’t know what I’m doing!” And I say, “no, you don’t.” Not because I want to be mean, but because I want to be honest. When you try anything out for the first time you don’t know what you’re doing! And that’s OK! But it means you have to be committed to trying things on, doing things one way one day and another day the next. It means that you have to be OK with uncertainty or bombing. That’s how you learn what really works. More importantly, that’s how you learn who you really are.
Ultimately, learning how to be a yoga teacher isn’t about learning how to teach yoga classes. It’s about learning how to offer something from your own experience that touches someone else. People don’t pursue teaching yoga because they’ll make a lot of money. They pursue it because the practice has deeply touched them, perhaps even saved their life, and they want to make an offering of their own to creating more of that energy in the world.
But the challenge in creating teacher trainings that promote integrity in teaching is that the person or people leading it really need to know their stuff. And by stuff, I don’t just mean yoga poses. They need to be steeped in yoga both as a practitioner and as a teacher. They need to have been in it long enough to know their own voice. They need to know functional anatomy rather than just anatomy from a text book. They need to know things that put yoga in the larger context of being a social human being; things like neuroscience and social justice and how we respond to trauma and how our health is affected by our actions and the food we eat.
Most importantly, teacher trainers need to be able to meet people where they’re at. And I don’t just mean by offering them poses that suit their needs (though that, too). By meeting the teacher trainees in their doubt and fear and confusion and staying with them long enough to give them the tools (rather than the answers) they need to find their way to a style that is really theirs. Which means that the people leading the trainings need to not only know a whole bunch of information, not only be willing to be present with their students’ fear and uncertainty as they find their way, but be egoless enough in the process to let their students find their own teaching.
If you’re really looking to become a yoga teacher to find your unique offering as a teacher, seek out the type of teacher trainer who doesn’t take away your questions by supplying answers. Seek out someone who provides information that helps you learn how to think about the components of teaching. Prescribed answers and systems might offer you a false sense of security and comfort, but they don’t lend themselves to critical thinking, inquiry, deep understanding and ultimately teaching that has integrity. Teaching that is yours.