Sergio DiazGranados of the Yoga Teacher Training website contacted me for an interview when I wrote the “babies teaching babies” post. He also published an interview with David Frawley so I am in good company! Maybe my thoughts will benefit someone out there so I am posting a few of my pithier answers. You can read the entire interview on his site next week.
Sergio also has an opportunity for someone to win a yoga scholarship for a 2012 teacher training program by teachers such as Rod Stryker, Rolf Gates, Shiva Rea, or David Swenson, among others. The deadline to apply is November 18.
What was your biggest challenge during your teacher training process?
I think my biggest challenge during my first yoga teacher training was doing chatarunga dandasana! I had never done that pose in a beginning yoga class and I felt intimidated by the younger students (I did not become a certified teacher until I was 48) who could do it without thinking twice. Fortunately I’ve come to realize that real yoga is not about the asana!
What has been your biggest challenge in continuing your craft as a yoga teacher?
I think my biggest challenge is teaching the style of yoga that I teach. I must qualify this by saying “in my geographic area.” My yoga is informed by my spiritually which is Buddhism and by my vipassana practice. The yoga that I teach is grounded in the Krishnamacharya lineage and mindfulness practice. My style of yoga is not what you would call mainstream. I call it the Yoga of Awareness and many times it seems that people are only interested in yoga as a workout. My yoga will make you sweat but not because you’re doing 100 chatarungas. It’s one of the reasons I no longer teach in yoga studios, only privately. I let students find me.
What do you think makes a good yoga teacher?
Someone who is always a student first and a teacher second, no matter how long they have been teaching. Authenticity. Walking your yoga talk even if you stumble. And if you stumble, then owning it instead of making excuses. Practicing what you preach, especially meditation. Compassion and empathy. Constant self-inquiry. The ability to say “I don’t know” if a student asks you a question instead of letting your ego answer for you. And the ability to laugh and not take yourself too seriously. We are always laughing in my classes. I tell my students that laughter is the best pranayama! Notice I said nothing about asana — because asana knowledge is a given!
Do you feel that teachers are doing a disservice to the Yoga community if they only focus on the physical asana practice and leave out the spiritual component?
I used to think it was a disservice, but I now believe “you do your yoga and I’ll do mine.” I only know what’s right for me and most of the students to whom I teach have been with me since Day One of my teaching, 10 years ago. If someone comes to me and doesn’t like what I teach, that’s fine, they will find a teacher better suited for them. I would not exactly call it a “disservice” because any type of movement is beneficial for the body.
But I also do not believe what many teachers believe that everyone will come to know what “real yoga” is, i.e., with the spiritual components, if they practice long enough. Yes, of course that happens with some people, but I don’t believe that’s true for everyone who starts out with yoga as a purely physical practice because not everyone is on the same path. That is like saying everyone who runs a marathon is on equal footing. They’re not. There will always be someone in front, running with you, and behind you. Again, everyone is different and we all have our karma to work through in this lifetime.
For me, yoga is ALWAYS asana + pranayama + meditation and yoga always was a spiritual practice. I’ve heard Desikachar say that yoga contains X, Y and Z, and anything else is acrobatics. The bottom line is that you can call a dog a cat all you want to, but that doesn’t make it a cat. Calling your morning stretches yoga without having X, Y and Z doesn’t make it yoga. Would you still call it a chocolate cake if you left out the chocolate? It might still be good, but it’s not a chocolate cake.
What is Yoga to you?
Yoga to me is about personal transformation. You can only change the world by changing yourself, a day, a moment, a breath at a time. Through our inner work and self-inquiry, yoga teaches us to treat each moment as brand new, to be present with whatever arises in our lives, pleasant and unpleasant. It teaches us to observe and listen to the inner voice that bubbles up that is our connection to whatever it is we believe to be greater outside ourselves.