Yesterday was the last day of a yoga teacher training that began in September. Inspired by the group’s great courage and heart, I’ve written them an open letter that I hope will be of help to them and to anyone starting out on the path of teaching:
Let me begin by saying that being in your presence all these months has been a privilege beyond my highest expectations. When I reflect on where we—students and teachers—started in our travels together and where we are in this moment, I am both inspired and humbled. Your commitment to diving into principles and practices that took you deep into unexplored—sometimes challenging and even frightening—places shows a courage that is rare. The way you came together, from a handful of individuals each walking your own separate paths, to a cohesive organism bound together by truth and love is something I will never forget. I will remember you when I need to be reminded of the human capacities for kindness, compassion, connectedness and authenticity.
I know that some, if not most of you harbor more than a little trepidation about presenting the teachings. I get it. After 32 years of practice and 27 years of teaching I still sometimes ask, “What am I doing? Who am I to teach yoga?”
Yoga’s depth is endless. There will always be more to learn. We will probably come to know only a small fraction of it. But that is what’s exciting about this path. The opportunities for transformation are endless. You know what you know in this moment, and it is enough. What you know now is, in fact, perfect. In 10 years you will know and prioritize different things in your teaching and in your life and that will be perfect too.
Also in 10 years, you will likely look back at what you are teaching now and shudder at some of it. This will probably happen throughout your teaching life. Principles about which you were once emphatic will fall apart on deeper inspection. Sometimes you will stumble upon this in your own practice, and sometimes your students will show you. While I sincerely hope that what we presented in our training will serve you for years to come, I also hope that you will challenge it and if you discover a different truth, that you follow what’s authentic for you. If that happens please tell me so that I can learn from you!
This path of transformation is like any other long-term relationship. Early on, there’s a honeymoon. Yoga is the be-all-end-all. Like any other relationship, if you stay with it long enough, there will probably be times when it seems flat, when the magic disappears. There may be times when it pushes your buttons—big time. I sincerely hope this for you, because this means that it’s becoming a part of you, rewiring you from the inside. At that point, maybe you’ll double down, go deeper, and find a whole new way of relating to your practice. Or you and yoga may drift apart—maybe for years. Or you may be led to something else that becomes your truth. You may return to yoga or you may not. Either is okay. As Gandhi said, “My commitment is to truth, not to consistency.” Whether you practice for a few years or for the rest of your life, the time you’ve spent committed to yoga has not been wasted. It has transformed you in some way. Whether that transformation leads to deeper yoga practice, or leads you away from yoga practice and toward something else doesn’t matter. It has, in some way, lit your life’s path. Be grateful.
Most likely you will say things while you’re teaching that will surprise you. Sometimes you may regret what you say the moment it leaves your mouth and it will haunt you for months—or years—after. Remember that this is a teaching for you. Right speech is a practice that you can continue to refine over the span of your teaching practice. Practicing right speech will transform your life—another opportunity. Other times you’ll hear yourself say something inspiring or wise that you had no idea was in you. When that happens, you may recognize that as teachers committed to yoga, we are really just vessels that have made ourselves available to the wisdom of yoga. Sometimes that wisdom coalesces in words and concepts to which we unexpectedly give voice. Celebrate those times!
There’s so much more I could say, but as I reflect on what I’ve written so far, I realize that I may already have said too much. None of these things may happen for you, so please don’t layer reflections of my path onto yours. Our teaching paths and life paths are ours alone to travel and tend. Whether that path in a given moment is straight, curvy, uphill, downhill, short, long, rocky, smooth, thorny or strewn with rose petals, I hope we will all remember to take refuge in each others’ courageous, open hearts. That is where the yoga is to be found.
May we be safe, happy, healthy and free for the benefit of all beings.