The responsibility of a yoga teacher is deep. Its not deep in the guru-disciple sense. That’s not the important part of any yogic-based relationship. The responsibility of the yoga teacher is using the knowledge and experience that you have to make sure that your students and anyone practicing yoga with you is safe from injury- physical and psychic. Anything less than the highest level of care and concern for your students is irresponsible.
You may not always have the answers to their questions– not everyone will have the answers to all the questions. It is your duty, however, to find the answers and integrate these lessons into your practice and teachings. No one, under your supervision should get hurt in your class. If they are experiencing some injury beforehand and your instruction exacerbates that injury because they have not yet learned the art of patience, then while this has obviously not been solely on your shoulders it is still responsible to inquire of yourself the ways in which you have not taught this student how to honor their body. If your teaching lacks this characteristic in some way, you have to ask yourself how you can integrate this lesson into your classes and why you may not have included it previously. Obviously if your instruction exacerbates the injury because you are not instructing properly, this is your challenge and the student can’t be blamed.
In today’s world it is so easy to nonchalantly let your students come to class and leave class as though nothing happened and just collect a paycheck. For your students, however, much is happening and you hopefully can relate to their experiences through your own personal experiences with asana practice. You must be better than the money that you receive and take responsibility for a purpose greater than your need to make a living and your desire to do this by doing something fun that you love.
It is not the easy path to take, but this is the job of the yoga teacher to take full responsibility for the practice of his or her students as they enter the classroom. If they have found you once or many times, you take responsibility for their bodies and souls while they are with you and when they are using the words that you have guided them with on their own journey.
This level of concern may seem like a large burden to carry just for the sake of the students who don’t always listen, who don’t practice regularly, and so on. While this may be true to a certain level, the point is that you are more than just an exercise instructor. You are someone who has knowledge of a discipline that is thousands of years old. This same knowledge is deeply spiritual and guided by the divine and sacred experiences of thousands of yogis before you. When you step into the role of a teacher, your implicit statement is that you know what you are giving and instructing. If you don’t disclose your limitations and current challenge of knowledge and comprehension, then there is a certain level of truth (satya) that is lacking in your life.
These asanas that you teach are more than just “hip openers” and “ab conditioners”, they are expressions of this very life and world as well as connections to the body and spirit. Yoga asana, in particular, is not a toy to pretend will only give you a beautiful outside. Yoga makes your outer body beautiful so it can house your brilliant soul. If you are healthy, you are more capable of living your purpose. Yoga will fundamentally transform you from the inner most workings of your soul to the outer shell that is the physical body. This is why the responsibility of the teacher is so great. This is why yoga was taught one on one for thousands of years to only the most committed of students.
Sometimes teachers begin in a state of ignorance (avidya) as there are many institutions currently spreading yoga without consideration of its origins. It will happen, unfortunately. However, once a teacher understands the limitation and the challenge they now face, it is so imperative they step up and take responsibility for their teachings and the karma of avidya they may have put forth in their previous state. Even for teachers who have received a deeper education in yogic texts and such, there may still remain great avidya from the immaturity of the trainers or the student.
This is not easy to accept that you may have not done your duty as a teacher or that you may have acted out of alignment with what your heart truly would have desired if you had had all the information. However, i think this is it’s own lesson- if you trust the word of one organization, especially a corporation, and don’t investigate this for yourself, then really you only have yourself to blame. In this miraculous day and age of abundant information and technology that lets us access this wisdom and knowledge literally anywhere, there is no reason we should live in intellectual or spiritual darkness. Let this be the lesson to the eager yoga teacher.
So teachers of the world, carry your students as long as they are willing to carry you. For truly, you don’t exist without the students that look to you for wisdom, guidance and yogic comprehension. It is your duty to provide for them a sacred environment where you prepare the soil of transformation, where you plant the seeds of growth, and where you harvest the fruits of yogic labors. Anything short of this role is not a teacher, but someone who truly doesn’t understand the path of yoga in its entirety. Teaching is not a mandate, it is simply another avenue and expression of life and practice. Teaching comes with great responsibility that must be acknowledged and held in the highest esteem– otherwise are you truly teaching yoga?
Today and now, this is the time of great change. This is the time of evolution. Be the change not just that you seek but also that needs to be. Evolve so you can embody this change. now more than ever, the world needs the teachers who are truly ready to teach us a new way to be. Be that teacher always. The rest will always fall into alignment when you do.
Humbly at your service,