How the Yamas & Niyamas Can Help You Become a Great Yoga Teacher
To be an authentic yoga teacher, we must practice what we preach - in our thoughts, words and actions.
Here is an example of how you can utilize the Eight Limbs of Yoga as a guide to proper ethics and boundaries in the role of teacher. Let the yamas and niyamas guide you to your highest potential as you take your seat at the top of class.
Ahimsa (non harming, non violence): As yoga teachers, we need to be mindful of not only our physical assists that may cause harm if not done properly, but also mindfulness with our language. We must refrain from using words towards our students that are condescending, or that may create a sense of negative self-worth. For example, instead of saying, "If you’re not flexible, bend your knees," we can simply say, "Bend your knees if it feels right," or, "if it’s available, straighten the legs." Our goal on the path of teaching yoga is one of empowerment and strength. We want our students to realize their potential, not be told that they are inflexible, or not strong enough, or too big or too small to achieve benefit from a posture. So, with ahimsa, let's move beyond the obvious of physical harm, and become more aware of the words we use when we teach, and the potential effect those words have on others.
Satya (truthfulness): As yoga teachers, we must be willing to admit when we just don't know the answer to a question. It is crucial that we do not misrepresent ourselves and our scope of knowledge. Rather, seek the advice of a more advanced teacher, as necessary. If a student approaches you after class with a question that you are not sure about, be honest, speak your truth, and admit that you don't know. Offer to investigate the question, and have an answer for them at a future class if it is a consistent student. Or perhaps, refer them to someone who may know, a studio owner or even a medical professional. You will gain more respect with authenticity, than in faking the funk. Yogis are often intuitive enough to notice when you are not living satya, anyway.
Another important aspect of satya as a yoga instructor occurs around your dependability as a teacher. Consider when and why you call out, or find coverage for your classes. Are we being honest when we say we can't make it in to teach and seek a sub, or are we choosing to not maintain our obligations? Our students rely on us for so many reasons, and when we consistently call out, we are often disappointing them. Therefore, be honest if teaching yoga is really what you want to be doing, and SHOW UP!
Asteya (non stealing): We have all been to classes that start 15 minutes late, or go overtime 20 minutes, etc. This is stealing our students’ time. When we do not start and end as designated on the class schedule, we are taking advantage of their time, and in fact stealing it. Our students have carved out a particular amount of time to practice, and taking more or giving less is just not fair. Be mindful of time!
In addition, notice your own presence as a teacher. If your mind is somewhere else and not in the moment with your students, you are also essentially stealing their time, too. Maintain present moment awareness as a teacher, and you will be able to give more fully to the class and students. Trust me, it becomes very obvious when the yoga teacher is checked out.
Aparigraha (greedlessness): Anyone who has gone through a yoga teacher training contemplates quitting their day jobs to teach yoga full time. Many of us in fact do! However, don't quit your day jobs so fast. Know that to live without greed as a yoga teacher, we must realize our worth in relation to our experience and expertise. I would recommend offering free or cheap privates for quite some time, to gain valuable experience before we start charging an overpriced $150 per hour fresh-out of teacher training. In the practice of yoga, and in the practice of teaching, we cannot rush the process. When we are authentic in our way of being as teachers, abundance will naturally come.
Bramacharya (celibacy, chastity): Observe a student-teacher relationship. In other words, don't date your students. If you have an overpowering connection to a student, that cannot be resisted, then by all means pursue. Just do not have he/she be your student anymore. In addition, any flirtatious chit chat should not be done within a studio of employment. I would advise having such conversations in an alternate location, to maintain a sense of professionalism. We must also be mindful of how we are perceived as teachers. Tune in to how we dress and how we touch our students. Let’s not build a reputation of being the seductive or pervy yoga teacher.
Saucha (cleanliness): This one is a no brainer. Wear clean clothes, take a shower, or at a minimum, wash your hands after you teach. Yes, yogis are often all natural and earthy, but our odor should not be a distraction to those around us. Have saucha in your thoughts, as well. Think pure thoughts, that see the goodness in all beings.
Santosha (contentment): Be just as content when two people show up to your class as when 150 people show up. We should teach with as much vigor and passion every time we step into our space, regardless of class size or capability. Have an attitude of gratitude always!
Tapas (heat, perseverance and austerity): Simplify your life, and keep up the momentum in your own practice. Breathe a bit deeper, de clutter your mind of all that does not serve you.
Svadahaya (self study): Continue being a student. When we stop our desire to learn, we have then become a bad teacher. Continue your own yoga practice, read books that inspire you, explore different teachers and paths of yoga. Create links between your life on and off the mat, and share your realizations with your students.
Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to the divine): Stay connected to what led you to the path of a teacher. Remember your intention, and realize that you were called to teach. Embrace it!