In the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” after the death of the good king of Jerusalem, Balian of Ibelin, a Knight, is without an army to defend his people. He looks around him at young and old men alike, untrained men unfairly left to the task of protecting the people. He gestures to a young man.
“Who do you think you are?” protests the Bishop. “Will you alter the world? Does knighting a man make him a better fighter?”
Balian looks at the Bishop, and then looks at the young man before him whose eyes were full of fear, but also conviction, and says very simply, “Yes.”
Becoming a 500 hour registered yoga teacher may not be as dramatic as defending Jerusalem, but it is a milestone for western yoga teachers. Does it make a one a better teacher? Yes. Well, maybe. I think it depends.
To say yoga is big business in the United States is an understatement, and sadly, yoga teacher training programs are often just another product to sell. To be a “registered” yoga teacher means that the teacher has registered with the Yoga Alliance. There is some confusion as to what Yoga Alliance is and is not. It is a nonprofit organization that establishes minimum guidelines for the education of yoga teachers. There are some very good yoga teachers who are not registered with Yoga Alliance and there are some very bad ones who are.
Yoga is first and foremost a spiritual practice. It is the journey of self to Self. It is not a religion, but there is an element of it in all of the world’s great spiritual traditions. This is why yoga cannot really be regulated. However, in the west where most people associate yoga with the physical hatha yoga practices, it is important that there be some baseline education to ensure the safety of participants. It is a delicate balance.
“That is your oath.”
Balian was given his vows as a knight by his father. “Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath.” (Ofcourse, his father then smacks him across the face so that he doesn’t forget it. We don’t advocate that practice at EHY.)
At my first 200 hour teacher training weekend with Eternal Health Yoga I was asked, as all of our yoga teacher trainees are asked, “What are the qualities of a good yoga teacher?” Now that I have graduated with from the 300 hour training program, I find that question more pertinent than ever. I would retain many of the traits I had listed at the time: kindness, empathy, knowledgeable in the practice of yoga. However, many more would be added including humility, a sense of humor, and the ability to hold one’s tongue.
“What man is a man who does not make the world better?”
Balian was knighted by his dying father, and then sent to support the peace-promoting king in Jerusalem. A young blacksmith from France, Balian felt unworthy of the honor, but he was committed to doing his best to serve the king and the cause of peace in the holy land. He did not deserve the honor when he received it, but afterward he held his life differently and had a higher vision because of it.
I have very high standards for what a yoga teacher ought to be, and I regularly do not live up to those standards. However, I get as close to the mark as I can and surrender the rest- my pride, my arrogance, my annoying desperation to be liked- to the Divine. I have learned there is a balance between doing my work well and not taking it personally. If someone does not like class on a particular day, or doesn’t even like me as a teacher, it is not my problem as long as I have done the best I could. However, if someone has an exceptional experience in a class I happen to be teaching, I don’t get to take credit for that either. It is between the student and the Divine, and none of my business.
“You are not what you are born, but what you have within yourself to be.”
The word milestone refers to literal stones that mark the distance in miles from one place to another place. It is not that someone is at a particular milestone that is remarkable. It is the journey that got them there.
The formal education I have received through the trainings at Eternal Health Yoga have been invaluable to me as a teacher. The friends I have made through this community have been a source of support and strength. The teachers I have met have both challenged and inspired me. And life, too, has taught me a great deal along the way.
A good yoga teacher does not see a student as anything more or less than herself. She recognizes the student’s inherent perfection of body, mind, and spirit. She sees them as whole and healed. When we are struggling on and off our mats, we often only see an illusion of who and what we really are. We think we are weak, injured, or stupid. A good yoga teacher never sees that. Her vision helps us remember our own: a realm of possibility and infinite potentiality.