One of my early yoga teachers, Buddhist nun Anipema Chodron, gave me an important piece of advice about choosing a yoga teacher. Make sure you ask your prospective yoga teacher who THEIR teacher is. Then ask them who their teacher’s teacher is.
For thousands of years, yogis have paid homage to their teachers, acknowledging that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. We learn from the wisdom and skill of our teachers and they, in turn, depended on the wisdom of their own teachers. This is how the integrity of the teachings is maintained.
There is a festival in India and Nepal called Guru Purnima which is all about celebrating teachers. The word Guru means ‘removal of darkness’, describing how a skilled teacher helps us on our journey from darkness to light; from ignorance to knowledge. However, honouring our teachers has become less popular in recent years. A glance at the biographies of celebrity yoga teachers tells you a lot about their teaching schedule, media appearances and publishing accomplishments, but not much about their teachers. That’s a shame because knowing how a teacher has learned their craft helps their own students to better understand the context of their work and explore the hundreds or thousands of years of wisdom that sits behind their success.
Choosing good teachers is especially important in an era in which yoga scandals have become depressingly common. There are very few yoga traditions that have escaped disgrace as more and more teachers are called out for abusive behaviour. Some yoga students I’ve spoken to believe we can continue to learn from abusive teachers, separating the person from the teachings. That’s not my perspective. While every human being is flawed and perfection isn’t a pre-requisite (or even desirable) for being a yoga teacher, when a teacher has behaved abusively (and, in many cases, denied or attempted to justify their behaviour), there are serious questions to be asked about their ability to understand, interpret and communicate the teachings of yoga.
As the owner of yoga school, I feel the responsibility of teaching very keenly. The teachers at Adore Yoga who work with our students, both the teacher trainers and those offering public classes, represent the values of the organisation and look out for the wellbeing of the our students. Their job is to help people move towards the light of understanding and that’s a big ask. Our teachers need to be well trained, experienced and, above all, must be able to call on their innate wisdom and compassion in all their professional interactions. I feel very grateful for the wisdom and generosity of the teachers at Adore Yoga, especially the faculty of our Yoga Therapy Training Programs.
Yoga Therapy is a highly skilled discipline that asks practitioners to draw on a wide and diverse skill-set. Yoga Therapists need to have a strong understanding of the musculoskeletal system, human psychology and behaviour, the immune system, brain science and diseases as diverse as cancer and dementia. That’s on top of a thorough knowledge of the practice and philosophy of yoga and meditation. That’s why yoga therapist training takes a minimum of 3 years and requires knowledgeable, experienced teachers who are gifted communicators. At Adore Yoga, we are fortunate to have some of the most respected experts in their field who generously share their knowledge and skills with our Yoga Therapists in training.
Of course, no blogpost about teachers would be complete without acknowledging and expressing gratitude for my own teachers. They have transformed my life.
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.