Purpose of a Yoga Teacher
From time immemorial, through the course of Indian mythology and history, we have witnessed great teachers educate and transform students. Dronacharya, Shri Krishna, and Sage Vasishta are the teachers who inspired dynamic warriors like Ekalavya, Arjuna and Lord Rama to enhance their skills and walk the path of righteousness.
But what makes a great teacher? William Arthur Ward, an inspirational American author and teacher said,
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
The great teacher inspires… indeed! All of us seek inspiration as it our nature to strive for growth. We can see this in the current movement where people are influenced by iconic leaders, motivational speakers, engaging storytellers, and impactful books.
The Modern Yoga Teacher
With information on our fingertips, we are progressing in technological advancements, financial growth, and an entrepreneurial boom. But, we have regressed in our wellbeing, mental health, and altruism. There is now an increased awareness and a growing need for us to slow down and look within.
More people are resorting to exercise, eating organic food, spending time amid nature, dabbling with arts, using music as therapy, and practicing yoga and meditation. Yoga is a staple in that arsenal, with yoga teachers being sought after and looked up to as a source of inspiration.
Today, yoga has been diluted from its original aim of self-realisation to a therapeutic form in the asana-centric approach. That is a great starting point and addresses modern needs. But with the increased need and demand, the number of yoga teacher training courses and graduating teachers is also on the rise.
There are many “asana teachers” these days, but what differentiates a yoga teacher from an asana teacher? This is a question worth pondering with the answer underlying the gist of this article. My intention here is to remind myself and other teachers the importance of having a purpose — the WHY behind our practice, teaching, and the essence of yoga beyond asana.
The 3P’s of Purpose
A purpose in life is important because it gives meaning and contributes to our happiness. So, let us explore the 3P’s of purpose and their respective aspects as per yoga philosophy. Although it is not as simple as an equation, it looks something like this:-
Purpose = Passion + Practice + Perseverance
Utsah (Enthusiasm) Passion means having an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. Enthusiasm in Sanskrit translates to Utsah, mentioned in Hatha Yoga Pradipika as the first of the 6 Sadhaka Tattwas (factors that help progress on the path of yoga).
Approaching the practice with enthusiasm every day and teaching students with the same zeal makes one an effective teacher. There will be times when the enthusiasm fades and that is okay. But, we have to find the inner source of motivation and ask ourselves what drives us to do what we do.
Sankalpa (Intention) The other aspect of passion is intention. Intention or Resolve in Sanskrit means Sankalpa, which is an integral part of the spiritual path. As a practitioner, Sankalpa is the tool that motivates us to transform, reinforces our purpose, and acts as an anchor during difficult times.
As teachers, we can also set an intention, using our head and heart, at the beginning of a class. For instance, “I am here to hold space for students and uplift them.” Or something simple like, “I am serving and loving”. Teaching yoga is essentially a script with emphasis on breath, activation, and relaxation. Our intention and energy is what makes a class transformative.
Sadhana (Spiritual Practice) A yogic or spiritual practice translates to Sadhana in Sanskrit. Sadhana is crucial to grow in all aspects of life. It helps become a better version of ourselves, which is an essential part of our purpose as humans (not just teachers). Consistency is of utmost importance, as repetition is the key to mastery.
It is conducive to find a sacred space that helps create the energy and ambience for practice. It also helps to practice at the same time every day unless there is an exception of travel or disease. Also, keeping the goal achievable and not lofty helps us be regular and sustain practice.
Yama & Niyama (Morals & Values) When we think of practice, it is usually the yoga mat that comes to mind. But, yoga is a way of life and every moment is a means of Sadhana. Are you sitting upright now? Is the breath steady? Is the mind wandering? We can live every moment with awareness and intention, rendering it as a practice.
Our growth on the yogic path is determined by Yama & Niyama, and not physical conditioning or prowess.
It is easy to show up on the mat to move, breathe, and meditate. But, the real Sadhana happens outside the mat. The measure of progress lies in the harmony of our relationships, self-acceptance, discipline, humility, energy conservation, and related factors.
Swadhyaya (Self-study) The third aspect of practice is introspection. This translates as Swadhayaya which has two methods — Self-study and Study of scriptures. Self-study is a tool that helps understand ourselves better by knowing our strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, needs, and ambitions.
Yoga is about overcoming the limiting patterns to cultivate healthy and spiritual ones. Self-analysis can be a daily reflection of the events from the day or a weekly practice of contemplation on Yama & Niyama. Inner transformation happens when we reflect on our thoughts, emotions, and behavior to identify patterns and work with them.
For the study of scriptures, it would be helpful to choose one scripture that appeals to you and study it. Study it intellectually through translation and commentary, but also include chanting or listening to chants to feed the subtle body. You can pick from any of the classical scriptures of Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, Samkhya, Upanishads, etc. Studying scriptures under the guidance of an experienced teacher is essential for spiritual growth.
Tapas (Resilience) No matter how much we practice and grow, there are bound to be obstacles. There may be days when you’d want to sleep in, cancel a class, lack motivation or experience upheaval in personal life. Life is not always rosy, and suffering is inevitable.
But, resilience helps overcome those challenges. Resilience translates to Tapas in Sanskrit. It is important to remind ourselves of our Sankalpa (Intention), the motivation to practice, and the reason we teach. This helps stay on track towards our purpose.
We love being in our comfort zone, despite knowing that most of the growth happens outside it. But, we can practice Tapas by living with discipline and stepping outside comfort time-to-time, by practices involving long periods of silence, fasting, cleansing, and solitude.
Satsanga (Community) The yogic journey is insightful and fulfilling, yet challenging. It helps if we have the company of like-minded people who understand us, motivate us, teach us, and support us. This is known as Satsanga in Sanskrit, also called the company of the truth or seekers of truth.
So, stay connected and collaborate with your peers, keep in touch with your teachers, and be rooted in the source of your learning and lineage. While the market is competitive, we have a lot to offer and learn from other teachers and practitioners.
Teaching is a marriage of Service and Self-Care
Service We have to constantly remind ourselves that we are only a medium to this ancient wisdom. Our teachers studied under the guidance of their mentors. Our teachers taught us, and we now share that with other students. So in the larger scheme of things, we are not as important as we think we are.
Teaching is about giving. So, let us not make it about ourselves entirely. It is common to be concerned about how we speak, appear, walk… but the moment we shift our attention from ourselves to the student, it becomes about giving and not so much about us.
Service, which translates to Seva in Sanskrit, is not only volunteering monthly or helping the underprivileged. Seva is a state of mind and a fundamental attitude on the path of Karma Yoga, which can also extend to a studio yoga class.
Self-care This is something I advocate a lot having learned it the hard way. When we walk into class, we have to be in our best state because the students are receiving energy from us as their need is to solve a problem; be it physical, psychological or spiritual. So, a healthy lifestyle built around self-care is paramount for yoga teachers.
Eating clean, following a routine, practicing regularly, and finding relaxation must be a way of living. We can only give what we have. So, if we want to give energy, we have to recharge ourselves too. If we would like to spread love, we must love ourselves first. If we aim to share knowledge, we have to go through the learning first.
So as yoga teachers, let us set a collective intention of being the best versions of ourselves and uplifting others on the journey.
The purpose of a teacher is to Educate, Inspire, Transform, and Learn.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson