I admit that a part of me cringes when a bright-eyed, eager, and perhaps somewhat naive student of yoga tells me, “I’m registering for my 200 hour training! I’m finally following my dream to be a yoga teacher! I’ll be done in three weeks!” or when someone says something to the effect of, “I mean why not just do it, it’s only a month, everyone I know is getting certified to teach yoga these days and I’m ready for a life change!” There are a multitude of things I could say in response to statements like these. For starters, many of the teachers I have had the privilege to study with have been on the path for most of their lifetime: 20, 30, 40+ years. They are on par with some of the greatest healers, physical therapists and professors that I have worked with in my life, and they exemplify the practice through all that they do. They have spent thousands and thousands of hours working with every facet of their own practice and turned right around to offer incredible wisdom to students and eager teachers vying for knowledge and inspiration. To say that they have committed their entire life to the work is somehow an understatement. With this in mind, it becomes ever harder to swallow the notion that “You too can be a yoga teacher in three weeks!”
On the other hand, I can also empathize with and understand the excitement that arises at the prospect of becoming a yoga teacher in one or... dare I say even THREE months... It can certainly seem like a great thing to change up your life in a short turn-around time. As a culture in general we are constantly looking for the next quick-fix and many of today’s teacher trainings fit the bill. The pharmaceutical industry, much of the food industry and unfortunately many aspects of the “health and wellness” industry (which can and often includes yoga) run on this mentality. In the last fifteen years with the advent and intensification of the presence of the Internet, and now the absolute integration of technology in every moment of our lives, we expect most information to be readily accessible and on our tiny smartphone screen before you can say “Yogas Chitta Vrtti Nirodah.” When you add this culture and mentality together with a fantasy of being truly “happy,” quoting Rumi, and wearing comfy clothes all day, why wouldn’t you want to be a yoga teacher in less time than it takes a chipmunk to gestate?
I have bad news and I have good news. The bad news is that you won’t become a yoga teacher in 30 days. Not really. You can probably name some asanas, discuss the first sutras in Patanjali’s Sadhana Pada and name some major bones and muscles (if you are lucky), but this does not a yoga teacher make. The good news is that you will begin the most amazing, painful and interesting journey of your life in those 30 days if you have the wisdom and courage to realize that to be a yoga teacher takes a lifetime. There are certainly many careers where you can go to school for one, two or four years (although certainly not 30 days) and be done with your training for life if you wish. This is not one of them.
I can remember when I stepped out of my first 200-hour teacher training (which was, by the way, an incredible nine months, LONG by today’s standards). Having had those nine months to build my newly redefined teacher hat (I had previously taught dance in studios in Philly) was immensely helpful and exciting, but I was still painfully aware of how little I knew and how long a journey I had to go. At the time, I do remember thinking, “Once I’ve been teaching for three/five/ten years I’ll be so much more confident and knowledgeable,” and while it is certain that my knowledge and confidence have grown exponentially over the years, it is also so apparent to me how far I have to go.
With everything I learn, I am always looking for more. The wider my scope of knowledge, the more I realize how vast is that expanse which I have not yet touched. I have been teaching yoga now for nine years. Certainly there is some merit to that. I don’t discredit where I have been, the hundreds and hundreds of hours I have studied and practiced asana, therapeutics, sequencing, adjustments, meditation, Buddhist philosophy, and on and on. I can step into my classroom now and give any student with a specific issue personalized attention while teaching a group class without missing a beat, something I couldn’t pull off three years ago. I can help someone out of back pain or shoulder pain, can guide students through basic shamatha practice, can reference my own teacher’s wise words, all while discussing the occiput in relation to jalandhara bandha. In some ways these are milestones, and in others they are simply tools of the trade which I have spent many years acquiring and refining. However, even now when I study with a senior teacher I realize very quickly how little I actually know about the relationship of the pelvic floor to mulabandha or what amazing potentiality there is in the telling of stories to connect with students. When I listen to an accomplished Buddhist teacher speak or better yet when I sit down to meditate, I realize I know almost nothing about my own mind!!! After these nine years of teaching and practicing, I still wake up every day and ask myself where I can keep digging to expose the unknown and to keep pushing in the direction of uncovering that which will relieve suffering in my own life and the lives of my students.
Here is the conundrum of the 21-day, 30-day, 9-month or even two-year long yoga teacher training. It is never enough if you are engaged. If you are paying attention you never stop. Ever. This could, I imagine, feel overwhelming or daunting to some. To me it is one of the most exciting parts of my job. While a part of me does cringe when someone mentions becoming a teacher of asana in a month, another part of me celebrates all that awaits her. Yet another part of me deeply empathizes with the often painful and slow unraveling of the ego and its stronghold should she choose to press on in her path. The truth is that there is no timeline in yoga. Nothing happens on a schedule other than your own classes. You can dress and act the part, (comfy clothes and Rumi anyone?) but the true “happiness” aspect is slowly uncovered through years and years of digging, uncovering and, ultimately, letting go.
I am ever humbled by all that my practice reveals to me, all that my teachers so graciously share with me, and all that my students allow me to share with them. How lucky we are to be on this path as teachers, yet how diligent we must be to stay the course. Did I have any idea what I was signing up for when I stepped into my first day of yoga teacher training ten years ago? Maybe I did. A little bit. Even now as I list some incredible people as my own teachers, I cannot help but imagine what it will be like to have as much experience, technical knowledge or wisdom as they do one day. And yet I know deeply within myself that it does not work this way. We are handed gifts by our teachers and the teachings; how we use them, and when, unfolds according to our own individual wisdom working in tandem with those gifts. This journey is a lifetime, perhaps multiple lifetimes. To be a good teacher is to be disciplined, receptive and incredibly patient.
...But then again I suppose you probably would not sell many spots in your teacher training if you called it “Thirty Years To Transform Your Life.”