As part of the 2012 Arts Festival Day at an elementary school in Alexandria, VA, my yoga teacher-friend Brittanie DeChino and I volunteered to do a few yoga demonstrations to third, fourth and fifth-graders. We taught them sound breathing (a breathing technique we learned from our teacher Sri Dharma Mittra), sun salutations, balancing poses, partner yoga and a few other fun things. It was a nice change from my daily office yoga gigs.
At the end of each 20-minute presentation, we opened it up for a few questions from the kids. In the last group, which was about 75 fifth-graders, one girl asked “are you real yoga teachers?” Of course, we said with a smile “yes, we are real yoga teachers.” Though now I’m thinking, what is a real yoga teacher?
From an educational standpoint in the United States, the Yoga Alliance defines the educational requirements needed to be known as a Registered Yoga Teacher (aka RYT) with their organization. Is being an RYT enough to be considered a real yoga teacher? I say no. In fact, you can become an RYT and not ever teach an actual yoga class. Or you can become an RYT and teach yoga classes every day. Though I don’t think whether you teach yoga classes or not makes you a real yoga teacher.
To me what makes a real yoga teacher is someone who shows up in life doing their best every moment. Someone who shows up in life for other people —helping others, giving to others and not expecting anything in return (aka karma yoga). Someone who inspires others naturally through their actions.
To me a real yoga teacher honors the universal vows of the yamas (sutra 2.30) and niyamas (sutra 2.32). And if the “teacher” only follows the first yama which is ahimsa (nonviolence in thought, word and action) to me they are a real yoga teacher. Actually, this is more important than whether the teacher can even do the physical postures. I also think a real yoga teacher takes time to pause daily –whether it’s to move (asana), meditate, or just simply open a yoga text, like The Yoga Sutras or The Bhagavad Gita, and reflect. A real yoga teacher is a truth seeker – someone who is following their heart and sharing from the heart. As Sri Dharma always says, the goal of yoga is self-realization.
And how is yoga related to art (a question posed by one bright fourth-grader today)? Practicing yoga calms you (as Brittanie explained) which creates space within, opening you up to endless amounts of creativity. And as I type this I realize that teaching yoga is an art. It takes practice and a dedicated heart. Living yoga is an artistic journey. It takes constant practice and an open heart to whatever and whoever shows up in the moment. Isn’t this all art?