Yoga Teaching is a Profession ~ Yogic Life is not.
There is this myth, a preconception and expectation that people who aim to live a yogic lifestyle, go around hugging trees and forgiving everyone without a second thought. People seem to be really quite shocked if you show emotion that isn’t fluffy, and seem almost outraged and think you’re a fraud should you demonstrate feelings of anger, frustration, or hurt.
In my understanding of the yogic philosophy and its translation to the modern world living a yogic life is about being peaceful, respecting people, protecting the earth, environment and building communities for a better tomorrow. These simple principles can be translated from ancient yoga philosophy or what I fondly call the yoga commandments.
In my mind, being a yogi is also about being present to what is and living in reality, and this means having an awareness of what is going on around us, but more importantly within us. Thus when we feel negative emotions we shouldn’t attempt to numb them out, but like the lotus flower we have to sit in the mud and accept that suffering is normal, and go through the (somewhat torturous) process of dealing with our stuff, rather than burying it in hope of it disappearing but favouring dealing with it so it doesn’t come back to bite us in the butt.
I often meet other yogi’s who like me are not wearing the title like a badge; we are just attempting to be human ‘beings’ rather than human ‘doings’. In a nutshell we are just getting on with life as part of a journey, accepting that we are learning, evolving and are not perfect or screaming about the way we live, but we are living consciously in a rapidly changing world.
My social media is often full of yogi’s doing crazy poses, wearing even crazier outfits, and if you should fall into a yoga forum you will be welcomed by some of the most judgemental, people hating individuals I have ever come across in my life. I suppose like every profession there will always be those who feel they are the gold standard, and love to be the first to do this that or the other, jump on all the latest crazes, boast all over social media and happily call me out when I don’t call my female yoga participants yoginis (I cant decide if this is my belief that we are all equal matter who don’t require labels, or if actually so many years in education has made me fear gender labelling) but that’s another debate.
A few questions that loom about yogic authenticity are: is this un-yogic? Is this the modern world of yoga? Are we losing yogic values and real meaning? And has modern yoga become about shapes, poses and vocalising our choices?
I have only been a qualified yoga teacher for a short period of time, but this doesn’t make me any the less ‘real or authentic’. I remember when I started my yoga teacher training feeling like the runt of the litter, because I hadn’t been attending yoga classes for 10 years and didn’t know all the Sanskrit terminology. I learnt very quickly that when you listen to others everyone becomes your teacher, and in my experience those who have studied the most will be the ones to say they have the least knowledge.
In essence we cannot place yogic authenticity on the amount of studying or the positions that you can get your body into. I’ve felt investigating my cultural heritage has given me more yogic understanding that the majority of my self study, and that perhaps some of this inherent knowledge has been gifted to me through generations of yogic living, and that I am living modern yoga to pass on through many more incarnations.
In my work as a yoga teacher my focus is on welcoming everyone, and will always promote that yoga IS for everyone, but I am NOT the yoga teacher for everyone. I aim to make my classes inclusive and deliver a variety of styles to accommodate accessibility for all. I hold space for everyone in the class on many levels, which has been far more challenging whilst working virtually. When measured against the free online yoga this is where I differ, I teach who is in front of me, often intuitively and always with individual needs in the forefront of the teachings on any given day.
Yet I am a realist, I can’t possibly be everyone’s cup of ‘chai’ because I am human and I will irritate some and inspire others. I bring my personality, my quirks and even my humour to class. I live in my truth (which I’m sure irritates many in and out of class) and therefore I deliver in this way too. I am proud of my culture and my mixed heritage and it is this that brought yoga into my world, and this is evident in my home shala space and my studio classes; from the little temples, readings, philosophies, stories and experiences I share. Contrary to popular assumption; being of Indian heritage does not make me feel like I am a better yogi or that I know more; quite the opposite really.
I know I have a gift to share through my work, and it’s taken me all of my life to recognise that not everyone I meet will want to accept this energy. The best work I can do is to be myself and to continue without offence, without attachment and accepting that as long as I give from my heart it will never be wrong.
Am I an authentic yogi? My teacher once told me ‘ you have to show up and do the work and just keep trusting’ and this is my philosophy now in life, I just keep showing up. Yes I still struggle with non attachment to outcomes and some of the western attitudes that have been ingrained in me, but I’m living my truth and if I get outraged or eat meat it does not make me any less of a yogi, because this is not not my professional title, it is part of what makes me, and part of my gift to society. It is what makes me a feeling human who has the ability to connect and inspire others; it is the life of an aspiring traditional yogi living a modern existence, who just happens to be a teacher too.