• Shobhit Raj

Yoga Teachers are Human

An open letter to Yoga practitioners and teachers

What is the first thought and feeling which comes to mind when you imagine a Yogi? Perhaps someone with a limber and strong body, a calm and peaceful mind, a loving and kind heart — with vitality reflecting in their eyes and depth resonating in their words.

Sounds magnetic, right? This perceived image is one of the reasons many of us are drawn to yogic practices, as it can be a fountain of youth and an ocean of wisdom.

Our psyche connects to the archetype of a realised Yogi. An archetype is the epitome of a human quality or experience. This is why belief in God or a higher source is so powerful because every human, deep down, wants to access those divine qualities within.

This search is often unconscious in most people but awakens as sensitivity in the form of pain or blessing which could be physical, emotional, or spiritual.

A lot of people across the world today are practising the physical discipline of Yoga, and this has led to a surge in those practising, preaching, and teaching this ancient art and science in the modern age. So, let us understand the dynamic between Modern Yoga, Students, and Teachers.

This article is an honest and heartfelt expression in the journey of an urban Yoga teacher. As a reader, if one sees it from the lens of judgment — it will indeed seem that way. Whereas, if one recognises the underlying intention... the essence could be imbibed.

Say Hello to the Modern Yoga Teacher

We are flexible, confident, tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, and knowledgeable. We are practising Yoga, uplifting others, managing a business, nurturing a family, being a better version of ourselves every day.

But, there is more to this than meets the eye. The same factors mentioned above can become an obstacle, if not dealt with awareness. Behind every story of success is a journey of struggle, and your Yoga teacher has gone through this or is perhaps still going through it — because we are human.

What you experience in a hour-long Yoga class is just an aspect of a Yoga teacher’s daily life. At that moment, there could be a sense of calm, kindness, and articulation, but this is not necessarily how one feels all the time.

The point of importance here is that we tend to place people in boxes with labels. The stereotype of a Yogi looks great on paper, but there are very few Yoga teachers (and schools) who are truly leading a yogic lifestyle in accordance with Yama and Niyama — the attitudinal aspects of Yoga.

The Rise of Teacher Training Factories

But, let’s take a step back to understand what it takes to be a Yoga teacher in the modern day.

The key ingredients in most cases are:- An experience of suffering (stress, disease, loss, failure, mid-life crisis) + a few years or months of practice + 200 hours of a teacher training program (yes, one can be certified to teach after studying Yoga for 4-6 weeks) + a social media profile + a handful of books + a durable yoga mat + a thirst for self-transformation and compassion. With the explosion of people taking up Yoga as a means of wellbeing, the Yoga “industry” has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of teacher training schools offering endless styles of Yoga and a highly-valued international certification.

This might sound lucrative and seem beneficial for the overall community — more practitioners, more teachers, more Yoga, more peace, more love, more happiness. But, every peak has a valley.

While there has been a sense of increased awareness collectively such as healthier lifestyle choices, caring for the environment, standing up against social stigma — there is also a downside to the commercialisation of Yoga.

Impact on Yoga, Practitioners, and Teachers

How does this impact the essence of Yoga? It dilutes the classical teachings, emphasises more importance on Asana, and becomes a platform for patents and copyrights on something as ancient as 5000 years. We have to adapt to modern needs, but there may be a fine line between adaptation and following the herd.

How does this impact the practitioners? It leads to wavering between the endless styles and methods leaving them in a chase of novelty or variety, and often confused about the true purpose of Yoga.

How does this impact the Yoga teachers? This creates competition, comparison, judgment, insecurity, desire — all manifestations of the ego. The conditioned way to respond to the ego is with… Ego.

While competition is evident in every industry, it is often a hushed aspect in the business of Yoga due to its not-so-yogic nature.

So, some teachers get lost in the social media game of likes and followers; Some rely on the physical expression of a posture to propagate yoga; Some gossip about other teachers to feel better about themselves; Some feel unhappy when they don’t receive appreciation from a student; Some begin a conversation with the number of years of teaching experience; Some are conflicted between worldly and spiritual life; Some struggle with discipline while motivating others to practice.

Who am I to judge these trends and patterns of the Yoga community? I am an urban Yoga teacher who has gone through some of these challenges at some point on the path, and still do at times!

But, I derive these insights from genuine, vulnerable conversations with other Yoga teachers and energetic observation of practitioners, teachers, and myself.

Don’t get me wrong here. There are a lot of teachers who are constantly striving to wake up at 4–5 am, practice everyday, teach with compassion, manage a business, spend time with loved ones, pursue hobbies, be a lifelong student. It is challenging, confronting and I have immense respect for this aspect in all Yoga Teachers.

But, this is the ‘persona’ we show to the external world, the part that allows us to interact socially in a variety of situations with relative ease. Everyone also has a ‘shadow’, an unconscious aspect which Carl Jung identified as the darker, less known and unexpressed side. This part of us is often hidden due to the perceived image of a “yogi”, dualistic thinking, idealistic values, moral expectations, and unrealistic positivity.

A Message to Practitioners and Teachers

So, my sincere request to Yoga practitioners is to accept your teacher as imperfect, a work-in-progress, and realise that every aspect of light has a shadow. Be aware of projecting your aspirations and archetypes on your Yoga teacher to stroke their ego unconsciously. Most importantly, stop seeking novelty on the path of Yoga.

The teacher can help you evolve on the path, but you also help them grow as the learning is mutual (often the teacher learns more). After all, the role of the teacher is to make you independent and free.

So, please don’t look at your teacher from the lens of awe, perfection and idolising only. Meet them halfway and see them as humans, who may lose their temper, feel anxious, be arrogant.

For the Yoga teachers, my humble message is to be authentic and genuine with your expression and values. Aim for progress but stop seeking perfection because the idea of perfection is always relative to current perception — which is constantly changing.

Show your imperfections to the world, because a pandemic might require us to wear a mask, but Yoga does not.

As one of my spiritual guides once said, “Yoga is not a corporate ladder to climb”.

We don’t want a factory of Yoga teachers who are trying to fit into a mould of a robotic or perfect Yoga teacher. We don’t want to be stuck in bondage and talk about liberation. We don’t want to talk about detachment and not accept other opinions. We don’t want to get lost in the facade of competition but rather find our true voice individually and as a community.

We need more collaboration. We need to cultivate deeper self-belief. We need freedom from validation. We need to teach by example, rather than a pose or information.

At the end of the day — beyond the credentials of RYT 200/300/500, the certificates and specialisations, the marketing strategy, the numbers on social media, the intellectual stimulation, the words in this article— all that truly matters as a guiding force is a higher awareness.

What is one of the ways to experience that? Something we might already be familiar with and the answers lie in Yama and Niyama (codes of conduct), Sadhana (spiritual practice), Shaastra (scriptures), Satsanga (the company of truth), and Mouna (silence).

So, Yoga practitioners, don’t place your teacher on a pedestal and recognise the beauty of imperfections in everyone while learning from our strengths.

And Yoga teachers, if you ever happen to find yourself on a pedestal, remember that we are only a drop of water in this vast, endless ocean of Yoga.

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