As I look out at what is being taught as Yoga in the United States today, I am struck by how much of Yoga seems to be taught from, what I would call, the “outside in. ” Physical Yoga seems to have moved to the forefront: the poses, the teaching of an end pose rather than understanding the body as it seeks the pose, with a resulting failure to integrate the knowledge of change into the body and mind and beyond.
I see Yoga in the USA becoming another form of instant gratification that pervades other aspects of society and a means of focusing on the outside. An example of this follows: One day traveling on a plane, I talked with a young woman about Yoga. She told me that she had been doing a form of Yoga that required a person to do the practice in an overheated environment at a rapid, thoughtless, pace. I asked her what she thought of it. I was surprised when she said, “If you want the truth, I think it’s a form of abuse.” Is that Yoga?
I’ve seen other methods of Yoga conducted in a fashion where one posture after another is demonstrated and carried out with no time for relaxation or reflection. I’ve seen some Yoga taught as if the students are on a marathon. Watching this, I ask, “How in this method can the benefits of Yoga become integrated into the being? How can people learn to know their true self, their soul, that part of themselves that is one with the Ultimate?” And I’m troubled, beyond these programs, that teachers are not getting the in-depth training that, historically, has been the way of Yoga, students receiving the information one-on-one if they are lucky and students receiving in a group settings thorough training not only in postures, but in philosophy, teacher methodology, anatomy and physiology and a the deeper teachings of Yoga that lead to each person’s spiritual reality.
There are too many teaching models that offer week-end trainings, often less than 24 hours that launch teachers into the world with no real understanding of the traditions, the thoughtfulness and reflection needed in the practice, or the knowledge of how to absorb the teachings into their being. These teachers are time bombs in their potential to hurt people because of their lack of knowledge. A long time ago, someone said to me, “Yoga, rightly done, heals the student; Yoga, wrongly done, holds the possibility of damaging the student.” I remember that when I was first offered the opportunity to teach, I said that I wasn’t good enough. My mentor then said to me something that I have recognized ever since, “You will be a good teacher because you will never do anything to hurt your students.” I had learned from a good teacher, had spent more than a year with her and she was right.
So what is a good Yoga teacher? Sri Swami Satchidananda said that a Yoga teacher is always a learner who approaches teaching with humility. With this attitude, the teacher understands that he or she is sharing the knowledge that others have shared with them with Yoga being a knowledge passed down from one teacher to another since the beginning of time. Sri Gurudev also said that a teacher teaches by setting examples that are demonstrated most often not by words but by actions. Students see the teachings in a good teacher. What they see is that this person seems to know or to have gotten “something” special in their lives. It shows in the way they walk, the way they talk and in the brightness of their faces that shows no worry or sadness. People, then, asking, “What is the secret of being like this?” want to follow this person who demonstrates health, balance and happiness...