So, you want to be a yoga teacher! You do your teacher training. You learn how to sequence and adjust asanas, and how to lead a good yoga class. But what's the difference between leading a yoga class and inspiring your students? Here are 14 questions that anyone who's considering this profession needs to ask themselves:
1. Are you committed to daily self-practice?
Taking classes is not the same as having your own practice. When you show up for yourself, whether or not anyone else is watching, your practice develops depth. People can see this. Great teachers have enough understanding of the tools of yoga to create and maintain their own practice that supports them through life’s ups and downs.
2. Do you have a great teacher?
It’s so important to have someone you can go to when you need guidance. You’ve learned the foundations of yoga practice with a wise and compassionate teacher who has devoted years to the practice, someone who has been there before you.
3. Do you have a meditation practice?
The Yoga Sutra names one asana, which is the most important one—that of sitting for meditation. Speaking of which...
4. Have you read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali?
It's important to have read this foundational work. And perhaps also Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Shiva Samhita, Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads? Practice is important. So is study.
5. Have you addressed your own psychological garbage?
I cannot stress this enough. Obviously you don't have to wait until you are completely anxiety-free (good luck with that!) but make sure you're in place where you won't burden your students or fellow teachers with unfinished psychological business. You are responsible for your own state of mind, but in this situation, as a yoga teacher, you are also responsible for guiding, protecting and expanding the state of mind of your student as well. It’s a big responsibility. Please take care.
6. Do you have healthy boundaries?
Do I need to say this? Please recognize the power differential and the position you hold as a yoga teacher. Don’t make a habit of sleeping with your students, and understand the difference between a student and a friend.
7. Can you meet others where they are?
Allowing is the first step to working with any habitual pattern. Can you have "bad" students without trying to change them? If you as a teacher cannot accept a student’s weakness, how do you expect them to? It's about the student, not about you.
8. Are you still (and always) a student?
If you always continue to be a student, you will retain what Suzuki Roshi called, beginner’s mind: "In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.” Keep evolving through regular intensive practice and study, retreats and continuing education.
9. Do you live what you teach?
Practice what you preach, not because it’s expected of you, or out of a sense of duty, but out of the joy of experiencing the fruits of practice.
10. Do you share from your heart?
Trust your inner wisdom and experience to guide you.
11. Are you able to say, “I don’t know?”
My first teacher, Richard Freeman, gave me great advice when I first started teaching. He said, “Teach from your heart and teach only what you know.” I still follow these words of wisdom.
12. Can you accept other teachers and traditions?
We're all making our own ways through this treacherous terrain called life, doing the best that we can. If you have found a spiritual path that helps you, that's wonderful. Respect others' faiths as being valid for them.
13. Can you laugh at yourself?
This may be the most important qualification to be a great teacher. If you make a mistake, use it as material to prove to your students how yoga can make you a flexible, compassionate and wise human being.
14. Can you be kind to yourself in your new profession?
Relax and enjoy! You’ve discovered a practice that you love enough to teach, and you get to help people at the same time! Lucky you!