If I were to tell the truth right now, I would say that being a yoga teacher is challenging. At a certain point, yoga teachers, back when they were students themselves, and perhaps like their students now, came to recognize that there is something deep and powerful and potentially life-changing about the combination of effort, study and devotion.
There is the physical and mental effort of the asana practice, pranayama and meditation. There is the pull towards study, as the self is starkly revealed or as the wisdom of yogic texts is teased into the open through multiple readings and the commentaries of scholars. There is the devotion required to get into the true heart, looking inwards and outwards as we come to engage with the ‘higher’ stuff.
The circuitous route my thoughts are taking today makes me feel like my fingers are stuttering across this keyboard. I want to talk about the Big Stuff, the Important Stuff, but I’m a little bit stuck on the superficial. Maybe my writing today is like a mental exfoliation. What follows is today’s skin; it might make interesting reading while I rummage a bit in my muscles and bones for the meat.
When writing about yoga, I try to stay away from words like ‘transformation’ and ’empower’, words that all too often appear in those perky teacher bios. I get the feeling those bios are written really early in the teacher’s career. They’ve done their training, and they’re all ready to grab that time slot and convert the masses. I would like to see yoga teachers rewrite their biographies every year, as the realities of the profession becomes clearer; after we’ve come face to face with one too many empty classes, or are exhausted from driving to 3 studios in one day just to get more on the resume.
The world of the yoga teacher, much like most other professions, has its big names, with their acolytes, followers, and detractors. There are the stars, and there are the many wonderful, inspired, dedicated, hard-working locals, too. In our ranks you’ll find the dilettantes, the mediocre, and the truly awful. Looking for the one that suits you is a lot like looking for that perfect cup of coffee.
Yoga teachers have their good days and their bad days, their strengths, weaknesses, prejudices, opinions; their favored students and their dreaded students; asanas they love, asanas they avoid and other aspects of the whole nine-yards of yoga that they either incorporate or not. That wide a spectrum of ‘product’ comes with being human. There are excellent teachers, and there are lemons, and there is every fruit in between.
I wonder if similar obstacles or dilemmas have always plagued the profession, or if they are arose once yoga was brought to the West and officially became a ‘profession’.
If we assume that yoga teachers want a measure of ‘success’, how do we define what makes a ‘successful’ yoga teacher? Is it a matter of how many students they have per class and how many classes they teach per week? Is teaching yoga comparable to other business exchanges? In the sales world, you aim to make a monthly ‘nut’, a certain level of sales that guarantees a profit. Running a yoga studio, ‘holding on’ to one’s students and keeping them motivated to attend regularly is a lot like trying to make that ‘nut’ month after month after month.
The number of Facebook ‘likes’, Twitter re-tweets, newsletter ‘opens’ and blog subscribers might measure success by boosting visibility, attendance and income. Doing some retail sales, with the potential for product endorsement, could also up the success quotient. Yet it challenges my perception of what it means to practice yoga when I try and wrap my mind around the growing intersection of commerce and ‘yoga’. It’s like the advertisers have glommed onto the idea that by virtue of a yoga teacher’s endorsement- or just the image of a body in a yoga pose- the purchase of some product might bring you >>>this much closer<<< to being perfect, or happy or whatever it is you feel you lack.
But much of that is the external trappings upon which the ego can get snagged. Over my years of teaching, I accrued enough time slots and students to make that monthly ‘nut’. I utilized various marketing techniques, including today’s emphasis on ‘social media’- albeit awkwardly- and got my name out there. One day, though, I had an insight, a vision, a premonition. That it was time to be braver, dive deeper, climb higher. And it’s hard, because I keep getting snagged: I am hungry so I have to go feed a craving. I am tired, so I take a nap or grab the iPad and play 47 rounds of solitaire. I don’t have what it takes to give an idea the time it needs to ripen, so I jot off a blog entry and call it a day.
My struggles with practicing dispassion and detachment are ongoing, even here, on sabbatical. Distraction is the music that invites the mind to dance, and more often than not the steps take us away from what is important. Truth is, I hear that music every day.