A Most Honorable Profession | iHanuman


Love, Service, Devotion, Yoga

A Most Honorable Profession

When I first began teaching yoga in 1981, yoga wasn't exactly entrenched in the mainstream as it is now. I had been meditating for four years and doing asana out of a book daily. There was never a thought about becoming a yoga teacher, as I had four children, ages 7-14, and it was all I could do to stay afloat and meet my commitments as an Air Force wife and mother. My daily meditation practice helped more than anything else to keep me on a fairly even keel during those challenging days.
When the Officer's Wives Club asked me to teach a yoga class, I responded with a resounding "No". I didn't think I was remotely qualified to teach. I had never had a formal teacher myself, much less any kind of certification. But somehow they convinced me I could do it, so I began voraciously studying and planning. My first class was held in the living room of our home on Pope AFB in North Carolina, where I magically made most of the furniture disappear and did an overkill of fresh flowers, incense and candles. I was terrified! I prayed I wouldn't hurt anyone. I think I had about 6 students, all women of course. Fighter pilots were not exactly open to yoga in those days.
To my utmost amazement, the class went better than I could have imagined. I felt I actually might have some kind of calling to do this. In some way, whatever I did in that class, in what only could be called Divine intervention, truly helped those women reconnect with their innate goodness and feel more empowered to face their daily lives. It was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life, and the energy I gave out was returned a hundred-fold. I began reading more and more, taking long hours to plan my classes (I still have those early lesson plans which give me a good giggle at times), and looking, unsuccessfully, for a teacher of asana. Somehow, my class grew to almost 30 and we had to move to the community center on base. I needed a teacher desperately!
In 1983, my marriage dissolved and I moved to Silver Spring where I found my first yoga teacher, Gay Gooen, at Spa Lady, a now-defunct fitness center for women. Who would have thought? Over the years, I went on to study with many wonderful teachers, all of whom opened up new worlds to me and helped me discern what and how I wanted to teach. I am most grateful for the diversity of teachers and the many paths I needed to explore before finding the Anusara system that has worked best for me. I am particularly indebted to John Schumacher, Director of Unity Woods Iyengar Yoga Center, and Don Stapleton, a skilled and amazing Kripalu teacher.
We get many inquiries from students who want to become yoga teachers. Some call asking about our teacher training program who have taken only one or two classes that have "changed their life." Others just want a quick "certification", so they can have a piece of paper to become "official". And some don't know a thing about yoga and have no intention of teaching but just want to own a studio. I find this all rather amazing and terrifying actually. Obviously, there are all kinds of trainings out there, varying from a weekend "certification" to two or three-year programs.
John Friend, the founder of Anusara yoga, writes, "Teaching yoga is one of the greatest services you can render, and it is one of the most honorable occupations you can have. To help someone relieve suffering and rediscover happiness and love in life is one of the greatest possible rewards."
To be a good teacher of yoga, one must first become a good student. Studentship is called "Adhikari" in Sanskrit and is not taken lightly. The student must have a sincere commitment to learn and grow, have the courage to look at themselves, do their own personal growth work and have a strong desire to help others. John Friend writes, "Being a yoga teacher is like being an adventure guide leading a courageous group on a challenging journey to a beautiful, secluded place of transformation." To be a good student of yoga, one must commit to first going to class regularly and studying with an experienced, skillful and responsible teacher. Your teacher is an important and powerful resource for you as questions, doubts and concerns will inevitably come up. They can inspire you to establish a regular home practice, paramount to being a good yoga teacher. They can also guide you to the books and teachers, workshops and programs that will begin you on your journey into the deeper aspects of yogic philosophy.
A sincere and enthusiastic love for yoga is crucial in my estimation. If the passion for yoga is ignited in one's heart, the learning, the study, the practice will be a joy, no doubt challenging and very difficult at times, but still, a joy. To truly want to help people, empower people, relieve them of chronic physical and emotional pain, to vitalize their lives and health, to reconnect them to their own greatness is also essential.
What does it take to be a successful, well-rounded yoga teacher? I believe it requires a solid foundation in these four aspects of yoga.
1. Yoga philosophy - which provides the basis and context for teaching the elements of yoga as both an art and a science.
2. Science of yoga - which focuses on asana alignment, biomechanics, modifications, use of props, breathwork, sequencing, curriculum, and therapeutics.
3. Art of yoga - which masters the skill of teaching. This skill includes presence as the seat of the teacher, use of voice, classroom organization, verbal and physical assists, giving clear and heart oriented instructions, observation skills, and demonstration skills.
4. Performance of asanas - which reflects the teacher's attitude, mindfulness, balance of action, strength/stamina, flexibility, alignment, knowledge and understanding of the postures.
In retrospect, the process of becoming a yoga teacher certainly has changed a lot since I began teaching, which I consider a good thing. Deeper study, good teacher training programs with more stringent requirements and tests for certification all help to serve our students better. However, the secret of success in this most honorable profession is Love - that alchemical agent that captures the essence of yoga. It must be transmitted above all, from teacher to student. In this way, hearts and minds are opened and we all begin to remember who we truly are.
Happy studying,
Namaste, Suzie


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