In the US there are over 100,000 yoga teachers registered with the Yoga Alliance and countless more world wide.
Since I began teaching yoga full time 15 years ago, I have experienced and seen the incredible gifts that teachers and students can gain from learning, practicing and sharing yoga.
While many instructors see teaching as a fun side hustle or a hobby, there are the many who have found their calling and made it a career.
Whether you are dabbling or devoted, all yoga teachers must build their practice and career upon these 3 Pillars if they are to experience fulfillment and sustainable growth.
These 3 Pillars are:
Learning from other Teachers
Maintaining a Personal Practice
Teaching and Sharing with Others
Each Pillar positively supports and enriches the others. You apply what you learn into practice, then teach others.
The synergy that is created from this virtuous cycle leads to joyful, sustainable growth and balance.
Although there are countless benefits we will receive from our teachers, our practice and our students, I have found there are 3 Gifts that stand out; Knowledge, Power and Awareness.
These Gifts are borne from the interaction between two of the Pillars and each come with a Teacher Archetype.
The light of each of these Gifts also casts one of the 3 Shadows.
The Philosopher Archetype enjoys learning from a teacher, and teaching others, yet lacks the Pillar of Personal Practice.
The Philosopher gains the gift of Knowledge and with it the potential Shadow of Hypocrisy.
Most people start yoga by finding an inspiring teacher.
They embody the values and qualities we seek for ourselves. They have a magnetic energy and presence that makes us want to spend time with them and to emulate them.
They inspire us, challenge us and care about us, and impart their teachings to us.
We follow them to become a yoga teacher and begin to share what we have learned with our own students.
However, if we begin to neglect our Personal Practice and only teach from knowledge we will soon hear the hollowness in our words. We lose presence and repeat phrases and cues mindlessly and forget the inquisitiveness and curiosity we had when it was new. We will find that we have a teacher persona but when we go home and there are no teachers or students around, we are a completely different person.
The feeling of Imposter Syndrome will emerge and Hypocrisy will set in.
The antidote to this Shadow is to immediately recommit to our own personal practices and engage in the solitary inner work that no one else can do with or for us.
The Monk Archetype loves learning from a teacher, and has a dedicated personal practice, yet does not teach or share with others.
The Monk gains the gift of Empowerment and with it the potential Shadow of Indifference.
There are those who have the great fortune to have found a worthy teacher and have dedicated themselves to a regular and disciplined personal practice.
They have gained physical, mental and emotional power and have shored up insecurities and weaknesses gaining tremendous confidence and impressive skills.
However, one who accumulates too much power and does not share it will eventually suffer from callousness, self absorption and indifference.
They will become blind to the suffering of others and hoard these gifts for themself.
The antidote to this Shadow is to pay the teachings forward and to share their own personal stories of growth. Students thrive not only on the potent legacy of yoga, they crave to know how these teachings have shaped the personal life of their teacher as well.
The Guru Archetype has a dedicated personal practice, teaches other regularly and effectively but no longer has any Teachers.
The Guru gains the gift of Awareness and with it the Shadow of Egotism.
The profound awareness that comes from a deep and dedicated personal practice creates a magnetic power that draws students.
They see others to the depth that they have seen themselves and can look through the facade and defenses others hide behind.
They tap into a well of inner wisdom and insight that illuminates precise and subtle awareness into the bodies and minds of their students and they can impart powerful healing and transformation.
Their insights and awareness allow them to innovate and create new systems while shedding old rules and they often challenge the status quo.
They may become controversial leaders and many of them are revered as Gurus.
However, as the status and the respect for this teacher grows, they often will no longer see the need to have their own teacher, feeling that they have found the Truth and have nothing more to learn.
Instead of feeding upon the guidance and teachings from other leaders, they consume the reverence and resources of their students and can become intoxicated.
We have all seen the heartbreaking fall from grace when this Shadow of Egotism consumes Gurus and teachers.
The antidote to feeling that you are the most Enlightened person you know is to immediately seek out those you can respect as a teacher. Having the humility to maintain a connection to other teachers and peers is essential to balancing this leadership position.
Neglecting one of the 3 Pillars invites the 3 Shadows, yet neglecting 2 of the Pillars creates these 3 Tragedies.
1. The Over-Achiever Tragedy : Burnout
The first and most common of the 3 Tragedies is what happens when a teacher becomes so consumed with teaching classes, they lose their own personal practice and they lose connection with their teachers. This leads to Burnout.
It is a very sad situation indeed because it is precisely the love that this teacher has for their students that keeps them going.
They would give their time, energy and even work for free if it means they can help someone else, and they often do.
Even though they extoll the benefits of self care, they can’t remember the last time they said no to others and yes to themselves.
Without the energetic and inspirational input from other teachers they will begin to feel like broken records teaching the same sequences and unable to imbue passion or excitement. Without the personal experience to find energetic and spiritual alignment their timing and instincts will be off. Their words will say one thing and their bodies the opposite.
A vicious cycle ensues and due to the drain of energy and inspiration, students will disperse and classes will dwindle. This will then require the teacher to either teach more classes or spend more time on marketing, which can further drain their resources until one day the willpower runs out.
Those approaching Burnout must immediately recommit to a personal practice and find either a teacher or a community of peers for support and inspiration.
It is ideal if this is a relationship with a personal connection, however a one way relationship with an online teacher is better than none.
It would also be wise to seek guidance and inspiration in other fields and disciplines. Your personal practice will be influenced by those whom you follow and will enrich what you teach.
2. The Eternal Student Tragedy : Delusion
The next of the 3 Tragedies is what happens when a teacher becomes so consumed with learning, they neglect their own personal practice and they rarely teach. This leads to Delusion.
The teachings never pass through the tests of real life or real people, remaining trapped in the head as concepts only.
Eternal Students often collect certificates and take many workshops, retreats and personal sessions yet rarely apply this knowledge.
Because they don’t put into practice what they learn, they don’t embody the teachings and lack confidence to teach.
Their minds are full of good information, yet they cannot attract their own students because they lack the magnetic power that comes from a dedicated personal practice.
Teachings that are memorized yet not embodied cannot be delivered with presence or impact.
Their desire for approval and recognition blocks their ability to sense their own gifts and intuition.
They would benefit from the words of the Bhagadva Gita;
“It is better to live your own dharma imperfectly, than to live someone else’s dharma perfectly.”
Acceptance and self awareness are antidotes to Delusion and can be found first in a dedicated Personal Practice.
This would be the first Pillar to establish before seeking students to teach.
How long will it take and how will you know when you’re ready to teach?
As the old saying goes “When the student is ready, the teacher appears,”
However, it also follows that “When the teacher is ready, the students appear.”
3. The Lone Wolf Tragedy : Stagnation
The last of the 3 Tragedies is what happens when a teacher becomes so absorbed in their own practices they cut ties with their teachers and students. This leads to Stagnation.
Because this Tragedy does not involve others, it does not leave a damaging effect on the community at large, rather an invisible missing piece.
It may not even appear tragic because in the absence of students or their own teacher, this teacher’s potential is not realized, and therefore isn’t missed.
Often the isolation this person seeks is because of a painful past leading to ruptured trust and/or the fear of being seen.
They are like a lightbulb still in the box, filled with potential brilliance, yet fragile and disconnected.
They are suspicious of leaders and teachers. They avoid egomaniacs and sniff out charlatans immediately.
Because their rituals have been a life preserver they will not easily part with it until they are sure they are on dry land.
They have very high standards and it will take a special teacher, worthy of trust and tempered with integrity to inspire this person to share their gifts.
The discipline and persistence that has been honed from a deeply personal and often inexplicable spiritual devotion will make this teacher particularly powerful and influential once they are ready to embrace and share their gifts.
It is actually an imperative because the nature of spirituality is evolution and growth and they cannot suppress it forever without consequence.
As Jesus is quoted in the Gospel of Thomas:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
To the degree of this teacher’s potential, this will be the degree of their suffering to withhold it.
This teacher must begin the search for a worthy teacher and be willing to accept their influence.
Because the idea of teaching others feels too much like controlling them, they shouldn’t try to teach. Instead just be willing to share themselves and their practices with others. Let those who come have their own experience and gain their own lessons.
The art of not teaching can often be the most powerful teaching of all.
Hopefully the 3 Pillars can be a template to help diagnose and treat the common pitfalls and traps that will inevitably face teachers on their path.
There will certainly be times when you neglect one, two or even all three of these Pillars, I know I have.
Although your practice and career can survive temporary lapses in these relationships, the 3 Shadows and 3 Tragedies will come from neglecting them long term.
Once recognizing the problem, we can begin to introduce solutions and rebalance.
The gifts that teaching yoga can provide are too great to give up easily. I encourage you to reflect on these 3 Pillars when teaching no longer seems to give you the benefits it once did.
May you experience the true Joy, Growth and Freedom that teaching in harmony with the 3 Pillars can provide.