An Open Letter to New Yoga Teachers

This entry was posted on Mar 24, 2014 by Charlotte Bell.
new yoga teachersAn Open Letter to New Yoga Teachers

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:

Dear Friends,

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.

About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

7 responses to “An Open Letter to New Yoga Teachers”

  1. Avatar Suza Francina says:

    Thank you, Charlotte, as always, for your insightful, well-seasoned writing.

  2. Avatar Mary Ellen Smith says:

    Sooooooooooooo very True…so very true…thank you for sharing your heart and I totally agree!

  3. Avatar Natalie Evershed says:

    My heart is full and my gratitude runs deep. Saying, “Thank you” does not seem enough but I can start there.Thank you! You have touched my life for good. I’m am so blessed our paths have crossed and if I am unable to see you, you are with me in my heart and on my night stand as I reflect your words of wisdom from, “Mindful yoga, mindful life” Namaste 🙂

  4. Avatar Laura johnsen says:

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for a soul enriching, enhancing and expanding experience. But thank you pay sincerely for your humility and love. I am indebted to you and I am so grateful to have participated in your teacher training and to have met you,

    Much love,

    Laura Johnsen

  5. Avatar Charlotte Bell says:

    Thank, everybody, for your comments. Natalie and Laura, I feel so fortunate to have met you. I hope our paths cross again. You will always live in my heart.

    Suza and Mary Ellen, thanks for your kind words. It always scares me a little to write something this personal. I’m glad it resonates.

    Paula, if you stay with yoga (or anything else) long enough, your relationship will have a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes people fall in love with practice, but really don’t enjoy teaching. The good news is, you don’t have to teach. You can enjoy practice—or not—as your life evolves. I hope your teaching experience is more enjoyable this time. Stand in your authenticity. You’ll know whether teaching is for you.

  6. Avatar paula D'onofrio says:

    Wow, thankyou. I took the teacher training 3 years ago and taught for a short time. I hated it, had no support and eventually gave both teaching and my personal practice up. I felt like a fraud. Last year I came back to my personal practice and fell in love again. I have accepted a position to start teaching again at my studio in mid April. I am nervous and insecure about it, but this time I’ll be surrounded by other teachers and a real yoga community. Your article really helps.

  7. Avatar Taylor says:

    An instructor at the studio where I’m training sent me your post. I’m finishing up my training this weekend and have already taught two practice classes. At first I was very nervous, but am feeling more empowered and comfortable each time. I, too, struggled with the question “who am I to teach yoga?” And I love your message that there is always more to learn. There are no teachers who know everything. My goal in life is to always be learning, so I ask myself, why not extend that through teaching others some of what I do know. So excited to be starting on this new adventure. Thanks for your beautiful post 🙂

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