I work with a lot of yoga teachers. And I have been on the journey of being a yoga teacher for many years now. I often find a commonality amongst us teachers, especially as we begin our journey. We tend to fall into the mind trap of having to be someone other than who we are. We often feel like we need to project this image of “perfect” as if we have already attained the highest state of enlightenment, kaivalya, and show our students that we always live from it. Guess what, yoga teachers? We. Are. Human. Yep, that’s right – totally, 100% human. While we might have incredibly rich, deep and intimate experiences with our divine selves, it means that day to day, our human selves will want attention too.
Instead of deny, push away or belittle our human-ness, Phoenix Rising Yoga helps us learn to live authentic lives – to be who and where we are; in the process of recognizing our oneness with the Divine. Here are 5 tips that help me (and could help you) embrace the human side.
Explore what makes you tick and chase after that. To the extent you can, see what could happen if you were to let go of the idea or image of what and who a yoga teacher should be. This is definitely not to say drop all ethics or give up on the image of what inspires you to be your best, but let go of someone else’s idea of how and who you should be as a yoga teacher.
How do you find out what your own image of that is? There are many ways! Find what you love to do and do more of it. Let your passion and desire for life guide you into the circumstances that will provide the mirror for you to learn more about who and what you are.
Tip # 2
Spend time on your mat or cushion as often as you can. Notice this doesn’t tell you how often that is. So many times, as yoga teachers, we get caught up in a self-blame game of needing to do more: To practice more, to teach more, to be…more. I’m pretty sure that the philosophy behind yoga, especially tantric yoga, speaks to us about recognizing the divinity in what already is. There isn’t a lack of the Divine that we somehow have to generate more of, it is present and ready for us all of the time.
If we always think we need to be more or do more, including our practice time, then how are we ever able to embrace what we are and what we are already doing? When your heart prompts you to sit more, listen. When your body asks for asana, provide it. When you turn away from those messages, be curious about why. When your mind berates you for not getting up early to practice, exert self-mastery over it and ask it to be quiet.
Yoga is not about the postures you can do. Yes, reaching back into full Eka Pada Rajakapotasana feels amazing – heart open, hips open, core strong, back and shoulders limber – but what have you really attained? What is it you are really celebrating? The perfect posture or the commitment experienced working towards the posture?
Patanjali writes about this kind of deep commitment to practice in the Yoga Sutras (1.12). It’s called abhyasa. Abhyasa is that fervor you feel for practice – that which brings you to your “mat” (aka, life) and keeps you coming back to it fully engaged. It’s what keeps you committed even when it is challenging. There is effort involved but not self-defeating force.
When Patanjali speaks about practice, he probably isn’t even referring to asana. In the practice of self-mastery, or knowing oneself so fully that you have control over your mind, practice takes many forms. Asana is but one tool to help us learn about ourselves and the ways in which our minds approach our daily lives.
Keep your inner eye open. I don’t mean your third eye – so that you can obliterate whatever you fix your gaze upon, like Shiva can. I am referencing your own insight into your actions, reactions and choices. (Obliterating the illusion around what you want to believe and “seeing” yourself more clearly…) As a yoga teacher you are developing and cultivating an ability for self-inquiry and this ability, or some might say special power, can provide you with amazing information about how to make different choices that are more in alignment with who you are trying to become.
Phoenix Rising Yoga is a style of yoga deeply seated in awakening our ability to use our bodies as metaphor for learning more about ourselves. The next time you are in cobra, ask yourself, “What am I awakening to?” And when you press back into child’s pose ask, “What do I close off from?” Let your body answer and your mind listen. If our subconscious really is held in our tissues, as many recent developments in anatomy and physiology are pointing towards (Cobb, Elissa. The Forgotten Body), then our subconscious (or body) has a whole lot to tell us about how we live our lives.
And finally, Tip #5
Laugh often. Yes, I know – it is not very open ended of me to tell you to laugh often, however, yoga philosophy teaches us that life is one great and often ironic play called lela. It is all tragic, it is all beautiful. My first Phoenix Rising teacher, Karen Hasskarl, used to say that her most pivotal moment of transformation came the moment she could really laugh at herself.
When I strip away all my pretenses, all the “shoulds”, all the unworthiness I like to let myself believe – it’s really quite funny. I am, after all, human, doing the very best I can moment by moment. Yes, I may be a spiritual being, but I am having a human experience. And as Emmanuel (channeled by Pat Rodegast) said, our spirits take form to play, to feel, to experience and to know. So, if my mind is limiting me from letting my soul play – why not set that free with a laugh?
Jennifer Munyer is the Director of Yoga Teacher Training for Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy’s 200 and 500 hour programs.