Workshop Warriors: Learn Today, Teach Tomorrow?


Gathering round a Great Master after an intense practice session many years ago, one of my colleagues turned to me and said, “Wow, I can’t wait to teach that to my students.”  “What?” I retorted, an irritated tone combining incredulousness and indignation.

We (his students) had convened from various corners of the world to study, to be guided, to experience this exceptional teacher.  Of course part of the practice was physical, but what stuck with me most profoundly were always his words.  In the many talks woven between segments of physical practice, he recounted personal experience, spoke of principles realized through hard work, and shared years of culminated wisdom.  Occasionally, he admonished us against teaching something before we knew it.  Really knew it.  Knew it so well, in fact, that we couldn’t exactly remember where it came from.  Only then, he said, is it truly yours.  You have practiced, wrestled with, understood and integrated the material, honoring your teacher, the teaching and your students, and only then are you qualified to teach it.

This approach seems increasingly unknown, undervalued or unpopular with the proliferation of yoga today.  There is the desire to keep your teaching novel and original, and there can be real pressure to maintain a high “entertainment factor” to increase class attendance.  So why not throw in a move or two from that weekend workshop?  No one really owns yoga, do they?  Really, what harm does it do?


Ultimately, each teacher must settle on an approach that feels honest and steady inside (sattvic).  In the Yoga Sutras, a seminal text on the principles of practice, Sri Patanjali offers guidelines for all of life’s challenges — including teaching — and starts right off the bat with discipline (Yamas).   In considering whether or not teaching something new upholds your personal integrity as a teacher, try following this ‘Flow Chart of the Yamas.’

1. Does teaching this sequence honor the first Yama, Ahimsa (Non-harming)?

Patanjali provides an excellent first principle by which to gauge all our actions, including our choices as a teacher.  Consider the level of your students, their physical, mental, and emotional experience, and their capacity to integrate new information.  Ask yourself what best supports their progress in a non-harming, sustainable way.

2. Satya (Truthfulness):  Is this practice an honest reflection of my teaching ability and experience?  Does this practice reflect the true abilities of my students?

You may be a seasoned teacher who picks up a few key points for teaching headstand, practices on your own, and then integrates that information into a class situation relatively quickly.  Or, you may be just learning how to do headstand yourself, in which case teaching it would be inappropriate.

Our teaching is strongest and most vibrant when it comes directly from our own practice, where we have worked through potential pitfalls and complications.  We know the pose inside and out, we understand why things are instructed or sequenced in a certain way, and we honestly assess what is healthy and appropriate for our students. Asking yourself, “Why am I teaching this?” helps you cultivate integrity in your teaching.

3. Asteya (Non-Stealing)

Teaching what another teacher has spent years developing, without investing in a personal understanding of it first, is taking something that does not yet belong to us.  There is no external regulation, so we must challenge ourselves to develop an internal approach that is aligned with our personal values.  When we put in the time, effort and patience to understand a practice or pose fully, we teach from a position of integrity and honesty.  We can then serve as a guide for our students, deepening both their trust and our credibility.

One gauge may be the earlier example of not teaching something until you know it so well that you cannot remember where you learned it.  Another of my teachers says practice something new for 30 days straight, reflect and dialogue with your teacher, and ask for permission before teaching the new material.  While many people might deem this unnecessary or antiquated, consider how the student-teacher relationship is honored in this approach, and the karmic value in receiving a blessing to carry teachings forward.  How deeply do I ‘own’ this practice?  Have I been given permission to teach it?

4. Brahmacharya (Containing/Managing Energy)

Naturally, we want to be liked as teachers and seen as creative, innovative and engaging.  We may think this means presenting novel sequences, espousing new spiritual teachings or constantly updating play lists to meet perceived demand.  TheYoga Sutras explain that external referencing takes its toll, because efforts to get more people to like us will be endless, costing us precious life force energy.  Some students will embrace our teaching; others will not.  Am I containing my energy by teaching what is true to me?

5. Aparigraha (Non-Greed)

This concept piggybacks on the prior.  Reverend Jaganath Carrera (Inside the Yoga Sutras) says that greed bespeaks an “unsatisfied state of mind,” or looking outside of ourselves for fulfillment.  Am I bored or dissatisfied with my teaching?  How is the strength of my personal practice?  Am I using the novelty factor in an attempt to fill an internal void?

Using the Yamas is but one possible and legitimate method for developing your personal teaching guidelines.  The process of settling on your own values as a teacher takes time, but there is perhaps no effort better spent.  Think about your passion as a teacher, the purpose behind your teaching and develop the courage to invoke humility.  Your commitment to this practice relates directly to the respect and credibility you ultimately cultivate as a teacher.

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