Monday, 4 November 2013

On why I am not a yoga teacher.

Because I don't like to offend anybody, I want to start with a disclaimer: everything I say that follows, applies to ME and my yoga practice, and my's not my intention to diss others or what they decide to do and when. OK, with that out of the way shall we begin?

Stiff lady...beach yoga in 2010
When I first got really into yoga (by which I mean when I started practicing ashtanga, as opposed to going to one or two generic classes a week), the lovely girls I worked with started suggesting I might become a yoga teacher as my next career did some of my friends, my hairdresser, the beautician I visited, and countless other people I spoke to or met. I suppose it seemed like a natural suggestion (and solution) given that I had grown disenchanted with my chosen area of work, and couldn't see what my next step would be - and alongside this, I had grown more and more enamoured of the yoga world. So, simple! Right? But for me, this answer was very definitely (at that point) a new ashtangi, it was likely that my colleagues and non-yoga friends began to take me for some sort of "expert" as I was practicing 6 days a week, and pretty keen on reading anything I could find about yoga (in my first years it was a case of eat, sleep, breathe yoga). But if those people had been in the room when I practiced they'd have seen that I was very much a beginner, working my way (slowly) through the Primary series, unable to stand on my head, weak and not particularly flexible, to say nothing of the concentration battles that raged daily in my head (I typically spent the majority of my practice feeling cross with/completely jealous of the person on the mat next to me), my inability to "find" my bandhas, the struggle I had following the correct breath count through the trickier postures. I might have been "yoga girl" in the eyes of the unitiated, but I knew the truth: I was just an ashtanga baby.

And as time went on, and I continued to practice, I found that alongside my regular practice I also enjoyed going on yoga holidays and practicing with different authorised teachers. In 2012 I was booked to go to Purple Valley with Kino and Tim for the second time, when I received an unbelievably exciting email from Tim asking if I might like to help with a little assisting during the course of the workshop. All sorts of things went on in my head, and I realised that I really really wanted to be invited to be an assistant, and was a bit gutted when my own teacher didn't match the offer (not even to help get me prepared for assisting in Goa!), but continued her programme of inviting other students to assist her when she felt that they were ready for it. I had some unholy thoughts about how my lack of natural bendiness was holding me back, and how unfair it seemed, but still, I knew I didn't want to teach, regardless of my response to this situation. So I went to Goa to take the course with Kino & Tim, and despite being really anxious about it I felt enormously priveliged to have Tim teach me some simple assists, to get to stand at the front of the room with my teachers during the opening chant, and to learn the enormous difference it can make to your own practice to spend an hour beforehand gently assisting others in downward dog, in uttitha hasta padangustasana, in padangustasana (if I was feeling brave), to nitice the difference in other peoples' bodies, in their breath, in their reaction to me coming to help them. I found my breath was deeper and more calm, that when I was told I could start my practice, having a spot picked for me by Kino in the middle of the room, that I was more centred and inward focussed. I found more compassion for those practicing around me, but during this time I also felt (again) like an ashtanga baby - I knew so little, how could I ever know enough to teach, or even to assist?
Beside Kino during the opening chant
Fast forward four(ish) years from the start of my ashtanga days, and (as I have already written about), I found myself searching again for my next career move. And the idea of teacher training, which had vaguelly occured to me at previous times, floated back up to the surface. A teacher I adore (and enormously respect) was very encouraging when I enquired about taking their course, and several potential obstacles to me taking the training fell away, leaving me in a huge quandry. The thing for me was that although I kept feeling drawn towards this particular training, I was craving routine in my work, something that would help stabilise my days, give me some straight-forward work schedule, not to mention a stable income. And what about teaching? Well, working at the yoga studio as I do, I feel like almost the odd one out that I am not also a yoga teacher. And at some point in the past year I recognised that there is a little bit of me that enjoys the surprise when people assume that I am teaching, and I tell them I'm not. But a bigger bit of me sees that what might seem like a sweet and easy job from the outside is in many cases an uphill battle.
I see how tough it is for those who have just finished their training to establish themselves - teaching classes in the evenings and weekends, frantically trying to rearrange their whole schedule if they get offered a cover class that clashes with their day-job; I see how many teachers there are, and how few of them can actually make a decent living from it. I also see people who don't (in my opinion) have enough experience beginning to teach, and hard as I try not to make judgements, I don't feel that comfortable with it.
But then I also see my teacher, who is awake early enough each day to cycle to the studio and to have his practice finished by 6.30am; he then teaches until 10.30am 5 days a week, staying fully present in the room even if there is only one student still practicing at the tail end of his teaching slot. I see the teacher who is running the training, able to offer something different every time I attend her class, always choosing appropriate and touching music, and words, and sequences for the day, for the attendees who happen to show up that day, for the phase of the moon or the season. 
And I see me: struggling and suffering with my practice but yes, still practicing after almost 5 years - when I spent the whole of my first year convinced this would be a "fad". On the one hand, when I look at my teachers, I see that I could never be worthy of this. And that the only way I want to teach would be if I could become as great and as dedicated as each of them are. And I see that what I need, and what I want, is to have a yoga practice. And I want it to be just mine, and for it to to be my challenge, my comfort, my therapy. And I'm not willing to share that just yet. For it to also become my work would change things so substantially, and I would worry that in some ways it would spoil it for me forever. Even just to take the teacher training to further my own knowledge, which is what I was intending all along, felt like it might take my practice in a direction it's not quite ready for at the moment. And in any case, if we all become teachers, who is there left to be the students? ;) 
I admit I was very flattered at the positive response from the teacher to the idea of me taking the training, and to those who tell me they think I would make a good teacher. But after a huge amount of thought, and really focussing on what it is that I want to do (rather than just looking at what I could do), I decided not to take the training, and to focus on my practice, and on looking for a job. And after letting the teacher know, I immediately knew that I had made the right decision for me, for now, and while I thought fondly of the other new trainees on what I knew was their first weekend last week, I knew I was doing the right thing in not joining them.

So while we should never say never, what I know for sure is that for me, for now, I am happy to remain a student...and an ashtanga baby.