I spent last weekend on a campsite in Ditchling on a retreat for yoga teachers. It was very cool. I came back with extremely sore thighs from the potent combination of contorted-tent-bound-sleeping-positions on an ever-deflating-airbed, lots of yoga and some accidentally-treacherous-hill-walking. I also arrived home with a pretty deep cut on my finger that made both Gyan Mudra and the touch ID on my apple devices tricky to navigate (I’m entirely sure that it was the touch ID that caused me the greatest amount of suffering, make of that what you will). I should not be trusted with sharp knives. Not for a moment.
Beyond that the thing I came back with was a massive smile, born of laughing SO MUCH for 3 days that even in writing this, a week on, moments are flooding back to me causing me to pause my typing and smile like a Cheshire Cat.
Since arriving home I have been thrown right into the centre of the ‘back-to-school’ whirlwind. I’m well over a decade into this school thing now as a parent, you’d think I’d be a bit more organised. On it. Prepared. But nope.
No one has uniform, no one has appropriate hair and no one has done a single piece of homework. Don’t even get me started on name labels. I have no labels but I have nothing to label yet so no space to worry about that. I believe I am attached to the chaos of allowing it to come down to the wire in being ready (or not). We will get there. We always do.
In the meantime my middle child has their 10th birthday and that feels FAR more important. I have extremely rare Japanese import toys to track down so he is not left bitterly disappointed on the day. I have ultra-specific cakes to bake and Pokemon to craft from fondant icing. I have the joy of decorating for a birthday breakfast. I adore all of this stuff and dread the day my children no longer want it all. . .
Domesticity aside I have also been reflecting a lot on being a yoga teacher. It’s still something new to me. A label, a role, a position I have occupied, that I am playing with in terms of how it sits, how it fits, what it means…
When I say ‘yoga teacher’ what do you see?
What do you think a yoga teacher should be like?
What words come to mind?
What should they look like?
How should they dress?
What should they eat?
What should they talk about?
What does their house smell like?
Are they allowed to be disorganised? Messy? Angry? Upset?
How do their children behave?
Do they have sex?
Do they swear?
Do they recycle? Do they exude health and vitality? Are they wise?
Should they drink diet coke? Should they eat Mars bars? Are they allowed to smoke?
Do you have expectations of them ‘walking the walk’ in ways you are consciously aware of?
If you discovered your yoga teacher had a raging cocaine habit and did tequila shots every weekend would it shock you? Would you stop going to class? Would they no longer deserve…?
It is a subject that I find really interesting. Important.
Since training as a teacher I have, personally, put down so many of the ‘shoulds’ that I had been unconsciously carrying around about what a yoga teacher should be.
I have no raging cocaine habit and am still tee-total but I’m human. Very human.
My house is messy. Sometimes I eat junk. My level of caffeine intake needs attention right now, for sure. And, in terms of clothes, my leopard print addiction is back. Big time.
I don’t have huge affection for the word, but I am more authentic. More me. And from there I feel, I believe, I am a better teacher than I ever could have been a few years ago when coffee was the devil and my sweat smelled like sandalwood.
Despite this, I am aware that if I were observing myself as a teacher through the eyes of past me I would consider myself as falling short in a huge number of ways.
‘She’s not spiritual enough!’ Might be the first judgement that past me would make of myself now.
Big words. Interesting words.
And perhaps they are true.
Some may come across me, my classes, and think like this.
It may never occur to others.
It is a topic that exists concurrently with an uprising of opposition to yoga as a physical practise in the west, with judgements made on those who are perceived not to respect the roots of yoga and who limit the practise to only one of Patanjali’s 8 limbs.
The cultural appropriation of yoga and the violation on India and Indians in terms of invisibility and misrepresentation is very real and hugely important. But as a white, western, practitioner, being an ally, being aware of the role of power and the legacies of imperialism, has absolutely nothing to do with ‘appearing’ spiritual in any way. Indeed, to practise yoga, to live with conscious awareness of the commitment that is, is a messy, human, tricky, life-long experience. And one I believe I am living.
My walking the walk just doesn’t look how I thought it ‘should’. And perhaps not how you think it should either. And that’s no issue, for me, at all.
I have, at times, considered if I should stop using the word yoga. In many ways it would make life more simple. But I do practise yoga. I do. Imperfectly, messily, getting many things ‘wrong’…
For now it is a label I stick with: yoga teacher. With all of the projections, assumptions and very real commitment to the practise that involves.
Yoga Practise not Yoga Perfect…
It’s not that I don’t get it. The ‘shoulds’ can be lovely, alluring, give us vitality, and for many they are an authentic aspect of their practise.
I changed so much when I started, and stuck with, a Kundalini yoga practise. To an extent where some who are close to me found it baffling and, I believe, unsettling too.
Much of this was material… how I dressed (less synthetic leopard print and more white linen), how I ate (less processed vegan substitutes and more organic vegetables) what I listened to (less obscure 90s indie music and much more mantra)… I could go on and on.
Change came too in how I lived my life more generally. This wasn’t a negative experience. I slept better. The ‘dreaded’ cold showers really did make me feel amazing. Generally, over time, I found myself kinder and softer.
Whilst I can look back now and see the enormous amount of what many would label as spiritual bypassing that I did in these years, the practise of not being reactive, of ‘recognising that the other person as you’ and grappling with the concept of those people you find most tricky being your greatest teachers… it did have an impact on how I moved in the world, and in a positive way.
In a general sense, the practise had helped me to realise that I could change how I feel. And that had, for sure, the potential to awaken a sense of agency. But I did not see nor feel agency. Not at all. I attached so much to the transformation to forces/people outside of myself that my own role in how yoga had helped me was entirely lost to me.
I (unconsciously) believed I was making change for the ‘other’ rather than for myself… and that once I knew about the ability to make that change, if I chose not to (if my neurosis became more important than my sadhana) I would be punished.
If not by an outside force then certainly by myself.
Please know I am not making any assumption that others have the same experience with their yoga practise. I talk only about what happened for me.
Over the past 18 months I’ve changed just as much again.
Am I now a spiritual person? Was I back then? Has that changed with the clothes or the diet or the way I present myself externally to the world?
I could tell you what I believe, but it feels entirely unnecessary.
I could look at any one of you, reading this, and make an assumption on if you were ‘spiritual’ or not based on some imaginary criteria that I, at the moment I exist within as I make the judgement, bring to mind. But what does that achieve? Nothing.
I don’t care if someone is, or considers themselves, spiritual or not.
I care about kindness, I care about generosity, I care about helping others and I hope to be of some service in that… however imperfectly than manifests.
I am drawn to humanity, to those who show up as their messy (or extremely elegant) selves and who, from there, make me think, make me laugh, make me question where I am not as open minded as I could be…
I love humans. I really do. Being human, accepting and embracing my humanity, has really awoken a love and compassion in me that my previous commitment to being the ‘perfect’ yogi never came close to allowing.
If you have any thoughts on what you think a yoga teacher should do/be/think/exude… I’d really love to hear them You can leave a comment or email me. . .