Leadership on the Edge – Helping People to be Excellent Yoga Teachers

Leadership didn’t come “naturally” to me, and it wasn’t my goal to begin with. This role came about as an extension of my own desire to grow. I’d spent years studying a wide variety of cultivation practices, living at holistic learning centers, taking trainings, trying new therapies, and courses. Initially, I did it for myself because I wanted to be happier, healthier – less screwed up. Throughout that process, I met some amazing teachers and leaders. I observed what made one course, teacher, or center successful, whereas others seemed to somehow fail to reach their potential. At some point I realized I had something to offer that I thought would be a worthwhile contribution to the world. For me that inspiration was in the arena of human potential. I hoped that not only could I help people to be excellent yoga teachers, but that well-designed learning experiences could inspire them toward a path that led to ongoing growth and delight.

To support someone in becoming a yoga teacher, a leader in his or her own right, is a creative and collaborative process. I think a lot about which experiences and teachers will help my student-teachers generate the personal insight that will feed their leadership abilities, and I partner with them in their journey to discovering their own unique approach. Insight isn’t something that is teachable; one has to discover it from within. So, our job as yoga teachers is to create the environment which best allows that to unfold in our students. Leading in this case means being one part architect of experience and one part facilitator, ready each moment to create learning from things that occur.

This also describes the work of the yoga teacher in general – to guide students into an experience that can deepen their connection to their most authentic selves. The real purpose of yoga is not to be flexible enough to achieve the poses perfectly, but to experience the very edge of ones’ flexibility in full presence and awareness, so that we may bring that same presence to our “edge” in other contexts of our lives “off the mat.” In some ways this can put less “flexible” yogis at an advantage, because they can reach their edge more easily!

A successful yoga teacher is as focused on helping students to become present as they are on adjusting poses, never confusing this real goal with the mechanics. So while I teach a lot about anatomy and how to guide others into the “correct” stances of yoga, there is simultaneously a consistent focus on tools we can engage to generate greater presence.

Another way to guide students to find insight through yoga’s is to help them to consider every movement in a yoga session of equal importance, not just the asanas, but the moments of transition as well. Many yoga practitioners seem to snap from one stance to another, with a sense of relief upon having “arrived” at the next pose. Then there is a moment of vacancy as they await the next instruction. What if you push the edge of your ability to be present by bringing as much attention to the movement between the poses as you do to the pose itself, never rushing, never waiting, but experiencing each part of each moment as yoga? The entire process becomes mindfulness, which then spills out into your daily life.

Teaching with this kind of a holistic view takes a high degree of self-awareness, and a recognition of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. The exploration of this concept came from running head on into a key aspect of leadership that is often overlooked: making mistakes. Mistakes are fantastic, especially if we make them often, and then learn from them. The ideal is to make new mistakes – not to repeat the same ones. The challenges lead to incredible insight into self. So, this is another aspect I encourage my students to explore: what you learn about yourself when you take risks.

As yoga teachers and leaders we have great responsibility to engage ourselves in the same kinds of ongoing inquiry that we encourage in our students. Whether a beginning yogi, or an accomplished practitioner, we all experience the challenges of overcoming fears, delusions, and distractions. To lead in this way is to be a continual learner. Teaching yoga teachers is to help them cultivate that mindset in themselves for the benefit of their students.
Sabung Ayam