It never fails. I am settling into my seat in coach when the nicely dressed businessman sitting next to me asks, “traveling for business or pleasure?” A deceptively simple question, that I usually answer with a simple “both.” Then comes the question I dread the most, “what do you do?” To encapsulate this answer with a simple statement falls short of explaining my profession. Yet, inevitably I say it. “I am a Yoga Teacher. ” He then tells me how his niece/daughter/friend is also a yoga teacher and begins the usual talk about how tight his hamstrings are, how he can’t touch his toes, or (my favorite) how fit I must be doing Yoga all the time. This is a gross misrepresentation of how I fill my professional hours and my personal time, but the task of redefining what it means to teach yoga seems insurmountable.
Mr. Businessman’s idea of yoga isn’t a totally inaccurate perception in the yoga industry. I go to yoga classes from time to time that are simply physical fitness classes. But that’s not all that’s out there. Some Yoga teachers guide their students to do more than open the hips or broaden the collar bones.
Some Yoga teachers are using the asanas (physical postures) to help students develop an understanding of themselves at the deepest level. These teachers are helping us to understand the body as an intricate part of the whole system of our humanness, and they are helping us to see that in working with the body, we are also working with our mind, our heart, and our spirit.
So the term “Yoga teacher” is starting to fall short of the truth of what I (and many others like me) do “for a living.” The problem is that to relegate a vast and multifaceted philosophical and scientific system to a physical workout is a mistake. The postures are the catalyst to discovery of deeper truths and a more meaningful relationship with what is real and true. They are not exercise. The breathing is a tool to experience our life in a different way, more connected and more complete. The sensitivity to alignment is more than a way to keep the body safe, it’s a way to move and express the energy within and around us that is always working to shape our experience.
It’s time to change the conversation. For all of us who study and teach Yoga as something that is much, much bigger than physical fitness. It is time we work to reframe what it means to be a Yoga Teacher in the world today. It is time that we own the full scope of what yoga can offer and not stop short by limiting its benefits just to the body.
What are we afraid of? If you are a practitioner of Yoga (and not simply doing a Yoga workout), then let’s start talking about that. Can we take back the label of Yoga Teacher as source of integrity and authenticity and not just another YogaGirl YouTube spoof? Can we revive the understanding and practice of Yoga to be more than just our hamstrings?
Can we bring back the term “Yoga Teacher,” and not cringe at the thought of telling Mr. Businessman what we do for a living and a life practice?