So, yoga changed your life. It shook you down, cleared your head and turned your whole life around. Naturally, you want to share that with the world, so you decide to become a yoga teacher. Now you’re qualified help others experience the mind-blowing power of yoga that has given you so much. Excellent!
But is more yoga what the world needs?
As yoga teachers we are always, first and foremost, yoga students. As we deepen our practice, we notice that the benefits of yoga flow off the mat and into our every day interactions. And that’s where the magic happens.
The great yoga teacher TKV Desikchar was very clear that the measure of your success as a yogi lies in the quality of your relationships, not the quality of your asana. Or the quality of your asana teaching, for that matter.
When your practice deepens, your self-awareness develops and your relationships bloom, you might find that the highest expression of service you can offer as a yogi is NOT yoga.
I was part of a discussion group about Seva, or yoga in service, at the Yoga Australia conference. Yogis from across the country gathered to talk about offering yoga in service to people in under-served communities, from prisoners and people with mental health issues through to indigenous Australians, refugees and the homeless.
Yoga has many, MANY benefits, and I’m super excited by the growth in research on how yoga therapy can improve people’s health and wellbeing. But is yoga what these underserved populations need most?
I’ve developed Yoga Therapy programs for at-risk youth and women in domestic violence shelters. Yoga can undoubtedly be beneficial for these populations.
But is my choice to bring yoga to these environments based on what I need most, or what the people I’m serving need most?
I’ve had a long hard think about this. I’ve spoken to many people – both the providers and recipients of services for people doing it tough. And it’s difficult to come to the conclusion that yoga is always the best frontline solution.
So, my personal yoga journey has brought me to an understanding that while yoga might be the solution for me, it might not be what everybody needs. Sure, go ahead and offer yoga to women in domestic violence shelters. But perhaps, if you asked them what they really need right now, they’d nominate something else - affordable childcare while they meet with their legal representative, for example.
Instead of offering yoga to people living on the streets. I make sandwiches for the Vinnie’s night patrol. That’s my yoga. That’s the yoga I can offer to the people being served by Vinnies. I know I’d rather have a sandwich than practice down dog if I was about to spend the night in a shop doorway.
Yoga is a wonderful, transformative and healing practice. But being in service to others doesn’t have to mean teaching them yoga. If you’re a yoga teacher looking to serve others, take a really good look at what your community needs and what you have to offer. You might find you can give more than you’d imagined– asana isn’t always the answer.