As yoga teachers we want to encourage our students to explore all there is to the practice and be as free in choosing their yogic path as birds playing in the sky. While you may primarily teach and personally practice, let’s say hypothetically, ‘Hot Inverted Vinyasa Power Flow’ for its strong cardio and detoxifying benefits, some of your students may begin to connect with another style of practice and we need to learn to be okay with it in order to encourage the growth of our students as well as ourselves.
Maybe the deep and personal connection to the hypothetical Hot Inverted Vinyasa Power Flow that you discovered so many years back, had allowed you to find the strength to finally take charge of your life. Perhaps Hypothetical Hot Inverted Vinyasa Power Flow or (insert your favorite style here) also helped you in finding your inner strength. Once you found this new strength, maybe you began to ride the universe’s wave of unlimited possibilities by initiating other positive changes in your life. You finally dumped that prana sucking boyfriend and then not long after, ditched your draining 9-5 job in order to find ultimate bliss in your new yoga world. Personally understanding the transformational power of the practice helped motivate your decision to become a yoga teacher. Surely others will benefit from the same magical journey that is Hypothetical Hot Inverted Vinyasa Power Flow.
You enrolled in a Yoga Teacher Training, graduated and received the much coveted Yoga Instructor certificate and began your new journey of inspiring, mentoring and guiding your extremely impressionable students in to finding their own inevitable bliss that is HHIVPF (Hypothetical Hot Inverted Vinyasa Power Flow). Your classes at the studio are mostly always full, sweat is always flowing and the after class ‘yoga buzz’ allows your students to happily float out the studio door and back into their normal lives where they spread positive vibes to all the other little boys and girls.
Then one day you notice one of your regular students coming out of another teachers class. It then dawns on you that you haven’t seen her in class as much in the last month. Come to think of it, there are a couple people you haven’t seen in a while.
“Hey Jane!”, you say. “I haven’t seen you in a while…didn’t you know I was teaching HHIVPF today?”
Jane, radiating that familiar after-class buzz smiles and innocently yet enthusiastically says “Hey! Sorry I missed some of your classes. I have been exploring Ashtanga with Rita lately and I love it!”
You smile back at her and with a quick hug you are soon both on your separate ways.
Later on in the car as you drive home, it hits you.
Ashtanga? Ash-tan-ga? Really? Jane left HHIVPF for Ashhh-taaan-gaaa?
Your thoughts start to become a hailstorm in your mind as you try to grasp what Jane, or anyone would possibly get out of a style of class where all the poses are held while breathing and could be done while balancing your check book. And speaking of your checkbook, one less student is money out of your pocket and into Rita’s wallet. “HHIVPF is where it’s at.”, you tell yourself. Jane is clearly confused.
Is Jane confused? Or is she on the correct path of Svadhyaya, the fifth of the Niyamas that is Self-Inquiry. While HHIVPF helped to personally strengthen your core being and assisted you in discovering your dharma, it might not be the right type of practice that opens the right doors for others. Jane’s exploration of other styles is natural, healthy and nothing personal against you.
Obviously this fictional story is exaggerated for dramatic effect but I am afraid something similar could potentially exist in the yoga community. What type mark would this lack of proper intention leave in our yoga circles or worse, individually with our impressionable students?
Being a yoga teacher is not about controlling the experience for our students but about helping to guide them on their journey of the self. Teaching is not motivated by ego or a single thought process, but by the selfless intention of wanting others to grow toward a similar light that illuminated a similar path in us.
It is possible that in some students’ lives outside the studio, they may not receive enough encouragement or positive reinforcement. Just as a practitioner sometimes needs to be encouraged to relax into a posture by the instructor giving a verbal cue or a gentle push on the shoulders during Savasana, they may also be seeking a little grounded affirmation from those that they look up to within confines of the studio walls. Those instructors that have always given them plenty of unconditional support in the past, who from within a positive and sacred space called the yoga studio, smile at them, cheer them on and teach them a practice that allows them to open their heart to pure potentiality.
Truth is, we all were raised in different environments with a different comprehension of words like path and journey and love. What works for one, may not work for another. As teachers, we need to stay mindful of the words we use, the energy we project and above all, our precious intentions.
So the next time a student tells you that they want to explore a style of yoga that is not your preference, shove your ego off the nearest roof and be completely with them in the moment. Genuinely radiate love and peace and joy toward them because who knows, your acceptance and encouragement and unconditional support at that moment in time could be a critical factor in their evolution as a yogi, a human being and perhaps one day, a fellow teacher.