What makes a great teacher?
What are the ingredients you need to be a successful yoga teacher? By Faye Shekhar
The times I hear: “I can’t do handstand or forearm balance so I don’t think I’m ready for my teacher training yet, am I?” I often rephrase the question back to students. “Do you think being able to do poses such as handstand and forearm balance are vital to a practitioner wishing to become a teacher? Also consider, what growth do you think a practitioner obtains from asana practice if poses such as these are easily attainable?” You will often catch me in my classes saying that “an intermediate yogi is not someone who can access pretzel shapes, an intermediate yogi is the only person in a room who cannot do a particular pose and they feel indifferent.”
It’s beautiful to see all the photographs on Instagram of advanced asana in far-flung destinations with the latest, all-singing, all-dancing yoga mat and the latest matching branded yoga gear, but question the reason behind these images. Is it rooted in yoga or is it nothing at all about yoga?
I can speak from a place of experience as a traveling yoga teacher. The whole time that I was traveling from place to place, teacher to teacher, training to training, I was constantly seeking and never finding. I very much aimed to share a deeper message of all that I was learning via my images, because intellectually I was learning a lot. But I was most definitely lacking in the ‘experience’ of connection to the Self.
I was perpetually outward searching for the next destination, the next training, the next teacher that would make me feel whole. In all of these pilgrimages I was taking, I had completely missed that what I actually needed was a pilgrimage home. I realise now that I would have found wholeness there inside of me if I’d only taken the time to stop, be still more often and spend time focusing more on being present to all that was there within my own Self.
"For one who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; for one who has failed to do so, their mind may be their greatest enemy." ~ Bhagavad Gita 6:6
What is absolutely relevant in terms of becoming a good teacher is your commitment to showing up for your Sel so that our humanness becomes infused with divine truth, and so that all thoughts, words and actions derive from that place of truth. When I sit with a teacher now, it wouldn’t even cross my mind to consider whether they can handstand or not. I want to know if they can be my guide home to that place of potency and possibility, to that vibrant alive wholeness that is within me.
We spend so much time concerned with perfecting what’s on the outside and our material selves, about whether we match up to everyone else around us, our attractions and aversions to worldly things, people and ideas when, in fact, what we should be looking to perfect and purify is that which is on the inside, to tackle what the Vedic scriptures note as our ‘real enemies’…lust, anger, greed, envy and ignorance, all of which, of course, reside within our own selves.
"You should sit for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour." ~Zen Proverb
ātmasaṃyama (Discipline of practice)
The amount of hours we put into practice whether that be asana (postures), pranayama (breath work), dhyana (meditation), shastra (ancient texts), and many other avenues of practice is directly relative to what we will become. The Bhagavad Gita reminds us that the manas (mind) is like a double-edged sword.
Time spent worrying about other places, other people and other things is time wasted and exacerbates the enemies of the Self whilst spiritual practice trains the buddhi (the intellect) and purifies the mind.
When I applied for my first 200hr YTT back in 2005 having spent 18 months with a teacher, I was told that I wasn’t ready and that I needed to take a further six months with practice and to re-apply. Had I been ready, there wouldn’t have been an ounce of me that didn’t agree. Of course, all these years later I have great respect for those teachers pointing me back to my Self and to a consistent practice. I’m just not sure I fully understood that at the time.
samāveśa nyāya (The method of immersing in one’s own divinity)
I received a profound teaching from my beloved meditation teacher Paul Muller Ortega who said: “Worry not about how the practice manifests, what matters is the amount of time spent and the imprint of practice.” He likened this to the beautiful coloured fabrics we see in India and how at first they are colourless but get put into these large vats of dye. When hung in the sun, the dye fades but a little imprint of the dye is left on the cloth and the process is repeated and the colour becomes greater. Similarly, our intellect is imprinted
by the consciousness on the inside rather than all of the stress and worry that is on the outside. He never messed around with ‘try 5 minutes, then 10’, he made no bones of saying that practice should be 20 minutes twice a day. Just as an old zen saying says.
ātma sāt kāra (Assimilating practices, teachings and understandings and making them your own)
Once you have a developed and sustained practice then it’s about beginning to make them your own. In what ways have these practices been of benefit to you and your life? What do these teachings mean to you? How are they relevant in your life? How
are you be able to share them from your own experience sufficiently enough so that they become meaningful, available and useful to others?
This is a very focused part of our 250hr YTT at Same Star Yoga. We want to see that you have some understanding of how some of the shastra (ancient texts) are still relevant to you in the modern world, and how you are able to articulate and share that from a place of experience and coherence.
ūrmi sāgara nyāya (Teaching principle of ocean and wave)
Our experience as householder practitioners is relative to spanda, the pulse of life itself, the inherent creative vibration of universal consciousness as it moves into and out of form. Life is full of ups and downs and a yogic path isn’t always an easy path; you will definitely experience adversity as you begin to untangle all of the conditionings of life. However, this beautiful ancient teaching helps us to understand and to remember that when the wave of life comes crashing down and the many times in life where we are called or even pushed to turn in and to contract back into the ocean of consciousness are for great purpose, and that this is a natural occurrence in order for there to be a relative expansion back into our own individual wave of consciousness again. May you always ride the waves of life infused with the ocean of grace.
Faye Shekhar is a (primarily) Jivamukti yoga teacher and the co-owner of Same Star Yoga Studio in Suffolk. Visit: samestaryoga.com