A teacher looses the seat when self-absorbed. As teachers we must get over our selves and show up to serve. We must truly embody and practice yoga to qualify for teaching yoga.
Holding the seat means to stay in contact, to stay in relationship. The Sanskrit word Asana literally translates to seat, which in yoga represents the relationship to the Earth, all beings and all things. As teachers we must not loose the connection. We must no longer see ourselves as separate. A yogi practices, seeing the art of God in everything. A yogi practices, seeing the best in others, their inherent nature, and thus creates the space of allowance for others to become just that, their best.
As teachers of yoga we must breathe for and with our students, we must set the rhythm, the energetic tone, and hold strong in presence. How can we inspire our students to show up to the moment if we are distracted? When we step into the world as a yoga teacher we must get over ourselves. We are here to offer our service. We teach our students to listen, not just to listen for the cues of the postures, or breathing. It is beyond that. A yoga teacher must create the resonance.
A good yoga teacher is a good yoga student. A good student of yoga lives the practice and lifestyle of yoga. As yogis we learn to hold our own in our energy, and we do not get over reactive with the whirling’s of mind, and the emotional entanglements with the material world. It is an essential characteristic that, a yoga teacher must practice what they teach. How else can we assist our students in achieving liberation? We must reach with our entire being to receive liberation for ourselves. We must be thirsty. Then we will become the teachings. Then we will illuminate like a lighthouse to our community and students.
When I was a new teacher in my early 20’s, I remember I was initially attached to the actual sequencing of teaching a yoga class. It was all about remembering! This is actually an important clue, and a step to yoga.
I would spent hours designing the creative, challenging yoga flow sequences and the music playlists I was going to present for my first studio classes as a hired yoga teacher. When my first students arrived and I began to teach, I noticed that a lot of the sequences I was teaching were not appropriate for the students who were actually taking the class. They couldn’t physically do them. I remember the confusion and humility of being attached to the sequence, so much so, that I lost my ground with guiding the actual practice of yoga.
Luckily I had good teachers and had been prepared for these moments with postures like child’s pose, and downward facing dog to safely hold students in for 5-10 breaths while I got my BS together, found my breath, my practice, and became inspired with more appropriate sequencing.
I remember experiencing in that moment insecurity, and anxiety. I had remembered every breath, every transition, everything of the “pre-planned” class. Another sweet teaching from the experience is, we can’t control things like this, all we can do is train ourselves to stay in the practice of presence. I got lost when my student’s bodies weren’t like the 21 year old flexible body I was then experiencing. My mind became irritated because I wanted to show off this great sequence. Luckily, I recovered my center and modified the practice when I realized it was not an appropriate fit for most of the students, but my face flushed, I was sweating, embarrassed of my ego. Before this I had only taught yoga to other yogis in my teacher trainings, and some of my friends who were experienced with yoga in studios. I celebrate this humbling experience.
My first class was absolutely a perfect experience, and I immediately knew this deep in my heart. I was humbled, deeply humbled.
Some of the best advice I got was from one of my first yoga teachers and spiritual friends, Alanna Kaivalya. Alanna too was very young at that time in her body, but oh so, so, wise and deeply rooted in the devotion and mysticism of yoga. I remember being awe struck by her ability to calmly present throughout the yoga teacher training I was enrolled in. What was the magic she had? She was maybe 19 years old and teaching the ancient knowledge. It was still one of the most impressive things to be apart of for me to this day. A true sign, that, we are not just coming to the yoga practice for the first time ever when we go to our first yoga class. Many of us have been practicing since ancient times. The soul spark is eternal! That is why mentioned earlier remembrance is an important step to commitment in yoga. We may not have clear memory of a past life as a yogi, but we sense the connection, a strong sense that we found refuge.
Alanna observed my internal struggle with my ego. She lovingly, yet clearly, shared with me the truth about my role in creating my confusion with teaching those first yoga classes. It was like a bolt of lightning how quickly I saw the truth in her words. I literally gulped.
What Alanna told me was, “Get over your self!” She reminded me that when we show up to teach yoga, it is never about us. It is always about the student. Ah-ha! Being a good teacher wasn’t about having a unique sequence or great playlist, but it is about showing up in service to the student, in honor of the devotion to God.
Another of my most influential yoga teachers and spiritual friends, Sharon Gannon, shared with me that to be a good yoga teacher we have to be a good yoga student. We have to be thirsty for the teachings of yoga revealed through, and inspired by, the practicing of, yoga. We have to practice what we teach. It is the only way to reach. Yoga is as much of a journey as it is a destination.
Now as I step into teach a yoga class there is no plan, just presence. I never have a planned sequence, unless teaching hot yoga. Now I just hold the resonance and sense the collective energy of the group. We can tell so much about our karmic imprints and energies through our physical bodies. To the trained clairvoyant eye, the body is the way the soul communicates. As a teacher, I can just sense the energy of the group. I take a couple breaths and I can feel the molecules and vibrations of the collective. Here, I ground and hold the seat. From the two plus decades of practicing yoga, and who knows how many years through previous incarnations, there is an expansive resource of artful and beneficial sequences. It is more simple than the very breath.
What I do do to prepare for teaching yoga is I live my life in service to my students off the mat by acting in accordance to the morals and ethics of yoga. I live as a yogi. I study the yoga texts, and follow the suggested lifestyle of the ancient scriptures. I live in practice of radical love and acceptance towards myself, people, Nature, animals, God. We have to love people to be yoga teachers. We have to believe in the good of humanity. We love God, even though we may not be able to describe such love, or what God is beyond our own relationship. It is the seat.
Hold your seat yogis, practice, all is coming.