“Twenty-five people on their best behavior are sitting on the floor. Everyone in the circle has just told us their names , shared their yoga backgrounds and, at my request, tried to articulate why they want to take this yoga teacher training.
“I’m an 6th grade teacher and I want to teach yoga to my kids.”
“My anxiety attacks went away since I started yoga.”
“My dance career is ending and vinyasa yoga satisfies my movement jones.”
“I can’t stand working as a lawyer one more day!”
My heart feels soft and open to each one of them as they bravely start sharing their stories. I am always looking for ways to help them feel acknowledged, especially important in this first meeting. I want them to feel happy and safe right away.
“I welcome you all to OM yoga Teacher Training. We will get to the poses soon enough, but let’s lay the ground for being here in the first place. The name of this training program is Joining Heaven and Earth. Has anyone been curious about that title?
Still feeling shy, a couple of them nod but most just sit and wait for what I have to say next. “Heaven means your vision. Each one of you has a passion for yoga that has developed into a vision of sharing that beautiful practice with others. Am I right?” More nods.
“When you are imagining your future or how you would like to the world to be, you might find yourself looking up at the clouds; that’s heaven. The opposite of that is the grounding quality of earth that is about making things happen now.
“It’s wonderful to have a positive goal but without earth, it remains just a dream in your head. On the other hand, if you only have earth and no heaven, you might be good at tasks, like fixing the sink, but that will never evolve into a long-term goal or big vision, perhaps starting a plumbing business or inventing a better pipe. To be balanced, whole and effective, Earth needs the vision of Heaven and Heaven needs the action of Earth.
“Humans are the only beings that can bring heaven and earth together and you’ve already started doing that by showing up here today. You had an idea of being a yoga teacher and then you took steps toward that goal by filling out your application, sending in your money, keeping up your yoga practice and showing up here today — on time, in appropriate clothing, with all your textbooks. Congratulations!”
Some of them are already taking notes and feeling inspired by this talk, which is relaxing them and helping them lose their self-consciousness.
“So, what is the reason to be a yoga teacher? Some of you have already said it….”
“Yes! That’s right. The only reason to be yoga teacher is to be helpful. That’s the whole gig, and you know what? Sometimes it can be challenging! There will be people who come to your class that don’t want to do what you ask them. Some have attitudes. Some people even have B.O. And sometimes a person comes to your class that you just don’t like for some reason. But here they are. They have come to your class to learn yoga and find a sense of balance and wellbeing and your job is to help them. All of them, without exception.
“That’s why I consider teaching to be a practice, just like doing yoga is a practice and meditating is a practice. But when I am practicing yoga on my mat, I’m doing it for myself…and that’s the difference. The practice of teaching is really to benefit others and so we can think of teaching yoga as a bodhisattva practice. Does anyone know what bodhisattva means?”
Silence. Most of them are still too shy to answer and I’m pretty sure none of them are familiar with this word. Yoga teachings don’t typically include this concept, so I backtrack to something they might have heard in a yoga class.
“OK, does anyone know what the word ahimsa means?”
Hands fly up. I call on Luke, who is pleased that I still remember his name.
“Yes, non-harming of self and others. This is the bottom line of yoga practice, the very first principle. And did you notice that ahimsa is a “non-”; a renunciation? That is where we start: from a place of not wanting to ever harm any living being. Then if we water that notion, like a flower, our heart opens and our motivation starts to blossom outward, shifting from non-doing to doing. Non-harming evolves into a purposeful activity of being helpful, and suddenly we see so many opportunities. When we have that feeling, it is like waking up to life a little bit, right?”
Most of the teacher trainees are on the edge of their cushions, knees tucked under their chests listening to me as if they were being read a great novel. They know this is the juice, this is the inside scoop on teaching right from the horse’s mouth and they are drinking it up. They’ve stacked up yoga blocks to make desks on the floor and they’re furiously taking notes.
I try to wake up the spaced out people with a playful threat, “You should all be taking notes. You will actually be tested on this.” I pause to let them all get organized for the big reveal.
“Bodhi means awakened, and sattva means existence. So bodhisattva means….”
Yuki blurts out, “Awakened life!”
“Yes! A bodhisattva is a person who is so awake in the world that they see the suffering of others. They dedicate their entire life to relieving this condition. Doesn’t that sound like a good aspiration for a yoga teacher?
I reassure them.
“Don’t worry. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to be a yoga teacher and you don’t have to take a special bodhisattva vow to participate in this course but I offer you this model as an inspiration. A bodhisattva does what it takes to be helpful to all beings everywhere, all the time, no matter what.
“Different people learn in different ways: hearing, visuals, reading, touching and doing. So you are here to develop your language, your hands-on adjustments, your voice, your eyes, your understanding of people and your compassion. Because when a student doesn’t understand what you are trying to teach, the bodhisattva says, “I will dig deeper into my tool bag to find a way to communicate and help this person. We are not really teaching poses, we are teaching and reaching people. And, this is what it means to be a yoga teacher.”
The room goes silent. The students are contemplating this, trying to put the pieces together. Others are clearly moved. In the gap, I realize that how much this all means to me. Sandwiched between my students and my own dear teachers, a feeling of warmth and gratitude comes over me. It is said that the chances of meeting these precious teachings in one’s lifetime are as rare as a tortoise popping its head up into an inner tube in the middle of the ocean.”