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So You Wanna Be a Yoga Teacher V

Updated: Apr 4

These days, it seems that yoga has become a service that you purchase in the same way that you might purchase a massage, a manicure or a haircut.

For the most part, yoga is not being marketed as a skill you cultivate, get better at, discover more dimensions of, penetrate deeper into.

If you want to learn the piano or ballet or knitting, you'd probably sign up for a course, no?

That's how it used to be with yoga too. And when you sign up for a course, you get something else, something that's a very sweet perk, you get community. Week after week, you will spend an hour or two with the same group of people, and that is a very fertile ground for friendships to flourish. And friendships will do way more for your wellbeing than stretchy hamstrings. Sadly, the art of friendship is on decline in western civilization.

If we go even further back in time, yoga was exclusively taught from guru (teacher) to student. And if it was a good fit, that relationship would likely last years and years, and be as deep and profound as the relationship between therapist and client, mentor and mentee.

At some point though, at least in big cities, the course became an exception rather than the rule. And the drop-in class became ubiquitous.

When I started practicing yoga asana in New York City in the dreamy good old nineties, the drop-in class was well on its way to take over.

At least back then, you'd get a 10-class card or a monthly ticket at one studio, and chances were you'd stick with a teacher or at least one style or idea, for awhile, and maybe by becoming a regular at that studio, you'd make some friends in the process.

Of course, back then 200 YTTs weren't a thing, so the quality of teachers were much higher. Most of the ones I came across were not just teaching gymnastics.

Back then yoga was way more esoteric than it is today, and it hadn't been completely hijacked by wellness. And wellness hadn't been hijacked by the beauty industry.

I was first attracted to yoga as a tool to help me heal my recurring bouts of back pain. I'm not sure that yoga helped that. But I did find something that I had been searching for. Maybe it was the emphasis on breath that helped regulate my nervous system? Or perhaps it was the discipline I managed to find, to show up for my practice? It could also have been the sweetness of those minutes in savasana that gave me a premonition of what was possible.

I poured whatever little savings I had into a 200 hour teacher training in 2007, moved back to Sweden and started 'teaching.' The term 'yoga instructor' had become very popular, and I rebelled against it. I didn't want to be called an instructor, but actually, when I think back on it, that term was perfect. All I was capable of doing was instructing people how to get in and out of shapes.

And now, seventeen years later, I may have earned the (useless) title yoga teacher. Maybe. But now we've arrived at a place in Yoga's long and motley history, where yoga is being offered as a service.

We 'get our yoga on.'

Each week we must tick off a certain number of flow or yin classes from our to do list. And the so called yoga teachers become service providers rather than teachers. I recently came across a google review of a yoga studio in Berlin -- the client ( a more appropriate term than student these days) was very happy with their experience there, as the teacher 'paid a lot of attention to their wishes.'

Really? Isn't a teacher supposed to teach? Not give a service?

I think modern postural yoga is a sad state of affairs. What seems to be taught in most YTTs is how to design a cool sequence and a good soundtrack. And how to learn cookie cutter 'assists' that operate on the assumption that all bodies are the same.

And of course, any contemporary YTT, will talk about the business side of this hustle. How to scale and sell your offerings, how to stand out among the hordes of hopefuls, how to create passive income, how to do social media etc.

And that's a good thing. Because the 'teachers' that do financially well, are those who are good at packaging, designing, marketing and selling their offerings. And the offerings that are most lucrative are teacher trainings. So if you want to make a living 'teaching' yoga, you'd better offer one of those, whether you are qualified or not.

As I said, I got into yoga to help me deal with back pain. And I got hooked for reasons unknown. Placebo effect may absolutely have played a part.

For as long as I can remember, I was interested in metaphysics. I wanted to know the meaning and purpose of life. Whether 'god' exist. And whether death is the end. In junior high I was a hardcore atheist, and then a hare krishna came to school to talk about hinduism (in hindsight I realize that my school chose a poor representative), and I was very intrigued. But at my first Hare Krishna meeting I was repelled by the men in the front, women in the back policy. The food was good though. A few years later, I traveled to India, but for adventure and rave parties in Goa, not for yoga.

The core teachings of yoga are supposed to be the backbone of yoga asana, the reason for doing it. But I rarely find any of them in any of the drop-in classes I visit. The studios might be decked out with some yoga (and Buddhist for some reason) paraphernalia, and the 45 min core yoga class might sometimes end with an OM. But why? And does it make the workout yoga?

After more than a quarter of a century of exploring, studying and practicing yoga, I feel largely disenchanted with what gets presented as YOGA.

So, if you're an aspiring yoga teacher and you are reading this, what are you looking to teach? Do you want to instruct yoga asana? Are you looking to craft creative flows and badass soundtracks? Rushing around from studio to studio, offering this service to those in need for shit money? Are you looking to feel adored and empowered?

Or are you interested in teaching YOGA? In a way that may or may not include asana?

What is yoga to you?

How do you feel about the highest goal of yoga, and how should one practice to meet it?

Feel free to comment :)

And as I'll discontinue this blog, feel free to follow me on Substack instead

Photo by Beazy on Unsplash

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