“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
The world is full of “Yoga Teachers.” Wonderful people with a wonderful skillset to help you refine your alignment in downward facing dog or get buff in boat pose. Yoga Teacher Trainings that drill the architecture or a pose or the choreography of a flow, but our classes, whether intended or not, also make an enormous impact on our healing. Miraculously, in addition to helping us stay fit and calm, the practice of yoga also helps us to relieve pain and suffering. The average Yoga teacher today may be supporting the healing of others through sharing this practice, but they may not even know. Why are the classes designed to keep our bodies healthy making such an impact on our overall wellbeing? The answer is simple: the practice makes us come alive.
Someone walks into our class after years of pain or anxiety and finds immediate relief. People come again and again because the practice soothed their suffering or helped guide them to make better choices for their health and well being. Does this make Yoga teachers healers? Not exactly. Teachers are more like the conduits. Ideally, we have experienced our own sense of relief or liberation from physical, mental, and emotional discomforts, and now we share these discoveries with others. We are the instrument, but the practice is the wind. The practice itself is what makes the music of healing come alive in others. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of talking until you are blue in the face about how Yoga could help your neighbor with back pain or your cousin with high blood pressure. Just talking about Yoga doesn’t work. You have to do the practice to see the effects. It’s the PRACTICE that is the healer.
Patanjali (sage of yoga) said that Yoga serves two purposes, to relieve suffering and to grant liberation. He didn’t say that Yoga teachers did that, it’s the practice. I firmly believe that our teachers are guides. Like Sherpas on the path up the mountain. They are not the mountain, they are not the ascent. They are simply people who have walked this path hundreds or maybe thousands of times before and know many of the pitfalls and shortcuts. They know when to stop and point out the view, or when to keep pushing through the difficulty because the easeful part is just ahead. They know all of this because they’ve been there. They know where not to step because they’ve limped around on a sore ankle from making a wrong choice. They know where to be still and quiet so that the sweetness of the environment will emerge. When you find a teacher that deeply resonates with you, it might be because their path is so similar to your own. And in your eyes, they are walking it skillfully.
If yoga teachers are healers, it’s only because the practice has helped to heal them. Teachers can know all of the refinements of how to teach an asana, but if that asana hasn’t deeply impacted them in some way, it most likely won’t impact the students. Teachers can talk about healing all day long, but if they haven’t used the practice to heal themselves in some way, it just won’t resonate. As guides, the more directly your teachers have experienced the path, the better the guide they will be. So when you seek a teacher, or seek to be a teacher yourself, we have to be open to the process of our own healing. We can trust those who have walked the path before us (the word in Sanskrit is Sraddha), but we still have to do our own walking. We have to become curious about how and why these asanas or pranayamas are causing a shift. We have to be willing to look inside and not simply be told.
Maybe one of the best qualities of a YTT is it holds you to the work of healing yourself. It can be so much more than simply an asana class. It’s an exploration of body, mind and soul. It’s a sangha of seekers doing the work right next to you, holding you when you are struggling and being held and guided by you when you find your way through the maze. And it’s this quality of YTT above all else that makes a great yoga teacher. Anybody can learn the right things to say in downward facing dog, but can you speak to the way it helps you land in your heart? So if you are looking for a teacher or looking to become a teacher, be clear on your purpose. Be clear that the world doesn’t need more Yoga Teachers, what the world needs are those who have been brought alive by the practice and want to share it with others.
If you are ready to dive deeply into the exploration, refinement, and healing of your own practice and want to share it with others, check out our YTT programs in California, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, and Illinois.