Exploring tradition: How to become a yoga teacher
I am often asked the question, “How do I become a yoga teacher?” This makes me think about the many traditions of yoga, how new ones are created and what governs the different traditions.
Parampara: the teachers’ lineage
Parampara has always been important to me. This is a Sanskrit concept which means, among other things: belonging to a tradition; a line of teachers; or to learn directly from a teacher who, in turn, has a teacher from whom he or she learned.
In my case, I have learned from B.K.S. Iyengar and Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, both of whom learned directly from Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the ‘Father of Modern Yoga’. He, in turn, learned from his Guru Shri Brahmachari, who acquired knowledge from his Guru and from ancient texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Gheranda Samhita and others.
I also study pranayama and yoga philosophy with Shri O.P. Tiwariji whose Guru was Swami Kuvalayanandaji. Even here, the ancient texts are included as part of the knowledge taught in this tradition.
What these two traditions have in common are the old texts and to learn from a teacher who, in turn, learned from a teacher, and belongs to a certain lineage. Following a teacher for a long time gives a deeper perspective on the divide and yoga’s various parts as a tool for consciousness.
Trust your own practice
The practice in itself – your practice – is also the source of knowledge and insight. Personal practice and development should be the basis for developing as a yoga teacher; not the other way around.
Yoga teacher training did not exist with Pattabhi Jois at his institute; it was our own practice that was important: “Practice, practice and all is coming.” Visiting him in Mysore on a regular basis to get deeper into our bodies, and increasing our consciousness with the eightfold path of yoga as a guide, was a prerequisite for being authorised or certified as a yoga teacher. When I got my authorisation from Pattabhi Jois, I had fifteen years of yoga practice and studies behind me, and of these almost seven were spent regularly with him.
My first certification was given by B.K.S. Iyengar after one year of study at his institute in Pune, with classes every day and philosophy studies. By then I had already been practising yoga for ten years.
My pranayama certification was given by Shri O.P. Tiwariji after several years of practising pranayama and several courses with him in India and Thailand.
The reason I’m sharing this is because I believe our own practice, and being taught by teachers who are in direct contact with a tradition, means something great. An affiliation and context, a knowledge that can be learned and experienced by different people, and which can be interpreted in different ways, but where the core of yoga always exists. Yoga gives us the possibility to get to know ourselves and transform to a higher consciousness that benefits ourselves, our loved ones, our environment and eventually more than that.
Yoga also gives us clarity and freedom from our own thoughts and feelings that restrict, judge, value and hold us back.
Discover your motivations
What motivates you and what your intention is in becoming a yoga teacher is also very important.
To start with, explore your motivations and intentions, and practise what you’d love to teach – it’s a tool on your own journey towards transformation, clarity and freedom. Freedom from what you think restricts and keeps you from being the one you’re destined to be; what you truly want; and the dreams you have about your life.
Having a regular practice means meeting yourself on your yoga mat in whatever form or method you have chosen. This is the basis from which you should intend to share your insights, knowledge and experience.
Put your students first
Being a teacher of yoga also brings a great responsibility towards those who come to you. It’s not about you, your own needs or your dreams. It’s all about your students and their needs in any given situation. It’s very important to let your students’ needs take centre stage. Starting with an awareness-raising practice like yoga can be life-changing. So, it’s important that as a teacher you understand and support your students in this process.
In order to be able to do this fully, your own practice and insights are vital. Being authentic, being exactly who you are, striving to live what you teach and convey this to others is a very significant part of you as a yoga teacher.
Keep getting on your mat
I believe taking on yoga teacher training, without practising for at least five to ten years first, is a waste of time and money.
Instead, find a teacher you trust and feel comfortable with and practise regularly with them. Perhaps one day you can start to observe them teaching. Attend courses to learn anatomy and philosophy. Participate in workshops and read the old texts like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Meet other teachers in the same tradition. Go to the source.
But above all, practise and gain experience on the mat. Do your practice in both rain and shine. Don’t let anything stand in the way of you and your dream to do the thing you believe in, which continues to help you in your life.
Do your research
If you want to go deeper to learn more about philosophy, adjustments and yoga therapy, then choose carefully who you want to learn from. What kind of background and experience do they have? Have they spent time in India? Who have they learned from? What tradition do they belong to? Find the opportunity to learn from someone who, in turn, has a teacher and, in turn, has a teacher; where wisdom can be traced back in time to the ancient texts. Do they have the important ingredients of love, freedom and clarity? Do they experience joy?
Be sincere in your search and in your practice, but not too serious. “Be sincere, not serious,” as my teacher Shri O.P. Tiwariji often says.
Never stop learning
Becoming a yoga teacher is not something that happens in a month or a year. It’s a process in you that takes many years of practice and study, which never really ends. A good yoga teacher is constantly learning more from other teachers who can inspire, enrich and convey wisdom to their own insights to transform and heal.
In India, they say that after the age of sixty you start to reach your inner wisdom and can develop fully as a teacher.
Practise peace and humility
The term Ishvara Pranidhana, which is part of Patanjali’s eightfold path, is important to me. It stands for humility and power; to bow in humility to the power and knowledge that is greater than I am, but that we are all a part of. Humility for the power of yoga. Humility for life, yourself, the people around you, your students and the teachers you learned from and will learn from in your life.
Ishvara Pranidhana also stands for peace and it’s something we all as yoga practitioners, regardless of whether we are students or teachers, should seek out.
Go be a peace worker.
Life is an adventure of our own design, intersected by fate and a series of lucky and unlucky accidents - Patti Smith