Do these guidelines for being a yoga teacher apply to Ashtanga?

Let’s set aside, for a minute, any talk — and I know there’s always tons of it — about the good, bad or otherwise of Yoga Journal.

Instead, just check out this list of eight qualities one needs to be a good yoga teacher, which pretty well-known yoga teacher Amy Ippoliti posted on Monday:

Do you____

  1. Identify as a student of yoga in all areas of your life—not just on the mat?
  2. Embrace an attitude of being continually open to learning and being able to admit when you don’t know something?
  3. Possess a fundamental understanding of your own energy and a sensitivity to other people’s boundaries?
  4. Have a daily practice?
  5. Work to cultivate a vibrant body, sharp mind, and soft heart?
  6. Consider yourself psychologically minded with a certain level of emotional stability?
  7. Have a spiritual practice, even if that’s simply an appreciation of nature, art, or anything beautiful?
  8. Not worry about being too physically adept at the practice?

I think it fair to say that at least No. 8 probably would raise a lot of Ashtanga eyebrows (if you don’t know how to do that, it’s OK — that’s a Fifth Series pose). And No. 4 is pretty much a no-brainer.

But what about the others? Do they fit for a good Ashtanga teacher? Is No. 7 enough? (Is it even necessary — this is a topic I’m currently rooting through.)

How about No. 2? I’d say — from my experience — that there’s a bit of a weakness among yoga teachers, and Ashtanga ones in particular, when it comes to admitting a lack of knowledge. (It’s also probably a weakness, in general, among relatively inexperienced teachers of any sort.) But I suspect that some residual of the strong “You do” personality of Pattabhi Jois may be at play here.

Are there “Do yous” that are missing?

Posted by Steve

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theconfluencecountdown

Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

7 thoughts on “Do these guidelines for being a yoga teacher apply to Ashtanga?”

  1. 1. & 2 Beginner’s Mind – always in Ashtanga because there is so much depth to each series. I still find much to work at even nearly 14 years after my first Mysore practice. The Ashtanga Vinyasa “process” is to traditionally focus on Vinyasa and Tristana. If you practice those persistently and diligently, then alignment follows. It is interesting to me to see how very experienced practitioners tend to adopt a similar practice, especially when its time for 3rd series. The issue is that alignment and anatomy have become very “important” parts of Western yoga, for a number of reasons. One may be that traditional yoga, like Ashtanga Vinyasa, was conceptualized for traditional indian bodies – open hips from sitting on the floor, strong necks from carrying things on their heads. So, hatha yoga has adapted to suit the Western body – tight and in the neck, weak. Of course, many Westerners have traditional bodies too – let’s just peak at Mark Robberd’s or Kino McGregor’s Instagram for some yoga porn / inspiration.

    So, in traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, there is no explicit need to know anything beyond the series, adjustments and some minor modifications, and more importantly Vinyasa and Tristana. However, there is need for experience or capability, because you can’t really know or understand Vinyasa and especially Tristana from a book or video. You have to practice. A lot. At least most people do.

    3. What does that mean, exactly – a *fundamental* understanding of ones own *energy* and a *sensitivity* to other’s boundaries? Does Amy explain in her article? I didn’t see it. In my opinion, you can practice hatha yoga, even Ashtanga Vinyasa for decades and never possess a fundamental understanding of ones own energy. Or, somebody might have such a fundamental understanding since birth, having never even practiced yoga. With only texts in the internal traditions of the martial arts and traditional yoga for me to go by, it seems to me that possessing this understanding is the mark of a master, Sifu, Guru, etc. Higher level stuff. No doubt some of these teachers exist. Within the hallowed halls of teacher training alumni? I doubt it. From the recent authorized teachers of the KPJAYI? I doubt it, and apparently so does Sharath, who even admitted in a recent conference that simply being Authorized doesn’t even mean that person is practicing yoga. Does Amy possess this fundamental understanding?

    4. Here, I would have to strongly agree with Amy. In order to be an effective teacher, let alone a credible one, a teacher needs not only a daily practice, but a self practice. I’ve recently met a whole community of teachers in a city where only two that I know of (and only one personally) have a daily, self practice. Many just take other “classes” when they can. The quality of practice is incredibly low, and nearly every one of these teachers that I’ve met are simply not ready to teach because they are physically incapable of very simple things, like pressing palms flat into the floor in Ddog. Or even holding Ddog for 5 breaths. Amazing.

    Why do I go further and advocate for self-practice? Because only in daily, long term, self practice does the practitioner really begin to cultivate a relationship with themselves where discoveries and insights are developed after lots of time and practice. It provides the context for understanding the nature of patience and perseverance in achieving progress and perhaps mastery. Of course, there are some Ashtanga teachers who were very naturally talented, and more like these everyday, who accelerate through the series and become Authorized. For the record, I don’t heed these kind of teachers too much because this kind of experience does not produce the depth of wisdom that an ungifted practitioner has developed only after years of struggle, perseverance, and – you got it – practice.

    5. One of the things that kind of pushes my buttons is when yoga teachers begin talking about things like “mind” and “heart.” There is no need to for these concepts in a hatha yoga practice because they create confusion in students. Leaving aside the imposition of Patanjali Raja and Kriya Yoga on hatha practices of asana and pranayama, a yoga instructor is primarily an asana instructor, and for this he or she may be highly qualified. But is a yoga teacher really qualified to teach about anything regarding the mind or the “heart?” Again, wouldn’t that require some kind of mental and emotional mastery? Or at least a lifetime of practice under gifted teachers? I’ve known many yoga (asana) teachers, including Certified Ashtanga teachers and certainly not a single one would I look at as having mastered their mind, and thus seek their teachings on these matters.

    Let’s stay focused – are you teaching asana? What style? Teach that style well so that students improve. If the practice is practiced and aught well, then hopefully sharp minds and soft hearts will naturally ensue.

    6. Ha. Honestly, its sounds kind of like joke to me: psychologically minded with emotional stability. Its like that joke about the reason why psychologists because what they are: because they need a shrink more than anything. Seriously, in my opinion, a complete practice of “Yoga” – including moral precepts, physical practices and meditation – will bring up lots of mental stuff, and perhaps destabilize a person as they become more sensitive and “high” from all the circulation flowing inside them. Emotional stability, at least as I understand it, is a sign of mastery, wisdom, experience – a lot of it.

    7. Again – lets just take that S word out. What does it even MEAN? Nowadays it can mean ANYTHING. And back in the day, Christian Scientists loved describing their fitness as making the body like a temple. Similarly to how yogis from India to China to Tibet consider physical practices to make the body a “suitable vessel.”

    8. 3rd series and higher aside – a yoga teacher who is teaching asana better be capable. Pretty capable. C’mon Amy – that’s like saying that a Marital Art’s master shouldn’t be too concerned with actually, you know, fighting. Or teacher being too concerned with actually knowing what it is they are teaching. While you can’t expect an ashtanga teacher to know everything – ok, so some CAN float AND grab their ankles in backbends – they better know what they are teaching. I like that about Sharath. He has personally told friends of mine to teach what they know.

    1. Thanks Stephen.

      I think No. 7 is pretty interesting these days (and with the yoga trial going on and all). You hear some extremely respected teachers, who I’d say are as steeped in tradition as possible, say yoga is more a … argh. I’m trying to think of the best word. But not spiritual or religious — a sort of science or whole body medicine, perhaps.

      S

  2. I don’t get #8. “Adept” implies skill and proficiency, which seems pretty crucial to effective teaching, no matter what the subject is. Would you want to study piano with someone who can barely play Chopsticks? The beautiful thing about yoga, whatever style you lean towards, is that it is infinitely modifiable and can and should be adapted to the individual. I would hope that any teacher I went to has figured out how to adapt the practice to suit his/her own body, and is skillful and proficient enough to help me do the same. Flexibility is a non-issue to me. I have stiff students who have practiced with me for 7 years and I have tremendous admiration for their practices. “Adept” would be an understatement. They are at home in their bodies and practice with incredible grace, efficiency, and balance.

    This traces back to a more fundamental problem in the greater western yoga world today, which is that we’ve collectively created an aesthetic ideal that we tend to consciously or unconsciously strive towards. The more our body-shapes look like that ideal, the more “adept” we consider ourselves. And if we are far from that aesthetic ideal we drive ourselves towards it, always in the pursuit of some future accomplishment. With our minds constantly projecting into thoughts of future rewards, who is here in this moment, taking care of this body?

    1. Well you know I’m not striving toward any aesthetic ideal! Unless it’s recreating practicing while hearing the Ganga flowing.

      There was a “end yoga porn” thing going around this week that was sort of addressing your issue about “aesthetic ideal” and how we’ve created a false one.

      Warning: Beware what might result from a search for “yoga porn.”

      S

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