To teach or not to teach, that is the question…
Particularly in the ashtanga community, this is a hot button issue. Unless Sharath himself gives you his blessing, some will say you are unfit to teach this practice. With all due respect to Sharath and the system of authorization, I think that’s unfortunate.
I’ve practiced with unauthorized teachers whose dharma was most certainly to teach yoga. They were brilliant and faithful to the practice and their students….yet they’ve never traveled to India. To say they aren’t qualified to teach yoga is wrong.
If not certification, then, what does qualify a person to teach ashtanga yoga? Length of time practicing, perhaps? Mastery of the primary or intermediate series? A great breadth of knowledge? An ability to connect to students?
Actually, none of the above. Sort of.
I think If we put too much emphasis on any one of those, we potentially miss out on some great teachers. A person whose been practicing for ten years but still can’t bind in Marichyasana D has gained wisdom that the person who’s been practicing for two years but zipped right through intermediate doesn't have. And vice versa. Teachers of all abilities and backgrounds have something to offer. Sure, if you're half-way through third series, you most likely won't seek out a teacher who hasn't yet learned second series. But if you're brand new to the practice, perhaps a teacher who is still working on primary resonates with you.
And not all of us are lucky enough to live close to an authorized teacher. For years I practiced under unauthorized teachers before I found my way to Miami Life Center and studied with authorized teachers for the first time. Without those initial teachers, I would never have gotten to where I am. They played a vital role in the development of my practice, and I’m sure that’s true for many ashtanga students. We need these teachers to help fill the gaps that the authorized teachers don’t reach. If I had had to wait for an authorized teacher to begin the practice, I'd still be waiting. Or perhaps we didn't know or care about authorization at first, and we just wanted a teacher who made us feel comfortable. All the certifications in the world mean nothing to a nervous new yoga student without a clue. Most just want a friendly face who inspires them!
But I don't want you to think I'm without standards. There is one quality, in my opinion, that a teacher must posses to be fit to teach. It is the be all and end all of teacher qualifications.
Merriam-Webster defines a student as "an attentive and systematic observer"
How perfect is that to describe what it is to practice Ashtanga yoga?! We attentively (six days a week) and systematically (through the tristana method) observe ourselves during practice.
To be able to teach you must learn, and to learn you must observe, and the only way to observe is to practice. Practice, practice, practice. A student, by default, is someone who recognizes the limits of their understanding. A true student is humble and devoted. They are committed to the path of learning. They have questions and seek answers.
That is what's most important in a teacher. Not how long they've practiced or how many postures they can do, but that they dutifully attend to their own practice.
So teach on, teachers! Let go of the shame of unauthorized teaching. Somewhere out there is a student who needs your particular approach. Someone will begin their practice, or take it to the next level, because of you. For some student out there, you will be the right fit at the right time. Just get your ass on your mat everyday and humble yourself before the practice. You'll change lives, I promise.