“Gentle eyes to the reality as it is.”Deborah Adele, The Yamas and Niyamas
Ahimsa, a concept that on the surface seems relatively simple – NO Violence.
I believe most of us in the yoga world can comfortably say we are non-violent humans. I have a lot of respect for my friends who are out there fighting for the ‘little guy’ and doing their best every day to make a difference, whether it is for animal rights, human equality, or protecting the environment. At times though these battles can be overwhelming and lead to a state of defeat and confusion. While others with this knowledge of Ahimsa obtain a false sense of hierarchy, entering into a guru-like state of feeling bigger and more profound than everyone else. Either way the line is thin and for the most part, pretty grey.
As I started to look at what makes a great yoga teacher, I have been asking myself more and more questions. Trying to unpick this divide that I have seen within teachers and myself. To me it looks like this – the teachers on the side of defeat and overwhelm; and the over-inflated self ‘guru’ teachers. Yet there are teachers who sit right in the centre between both states. This is where I believe the magic happens, a state of deep humility, contentment and integrity.
I started to ponder what happens to humans to send us off to either side and how to keep reflecting back to the yoga path to keep us in check, as humble and yet empowered teachers. An example that came to mind made me giggle, as it is so obvious, yet when you start out as a teacher you can be relatively unaware of it.
Situation one: You have just taught an amazing yoga class, you were loving it, the students appeared to be having a delightful time, the music was good, the temperature was perfect, you created some magical scent and everything is, dare I say… perfect! Life feels good, you teach yoga, you feel amazing, then class finishes and you move to the entrance to chat and see everyone out. Then all these blissed-out yogis are floating towards YOU, singing YOUR praises and sharing how amazing YOUR class was… YOU’RE so fantastic, YOU made me feel so great! Wow, you think, I love my job! And you lock up and leave with a huge smile on your face.
Here lays our first potential problem – depending on your level of self-awareness and Santosha (contentment) it is incredibly easy to ride off the wave that YOU have done this amazing thing by teaching yoga. However, at some point when studying to become a yoga teacher the trainee should understand that they are merely ‘the messenger’. The person on the mat is the one doing the work. The yoga itself is what makes them feel amazing (not the teacher).
Certain teachers will always vibe more with certain students, but it is the yoga that is the magic. How a teacher delivers the class will of course play a role in how a student experiences the class. I believe it is important to keep in mind that a big reason a lot of teachers were drawn to yoga was from the experience felt on their own mats and the magic created through self-discipline, no matter who the teacher was. External inspiration is one thing, yet the magic comes from an internal discipline. The yoga teacher guides the journey in many ways, yet does not have the power to create the students’ magic.
Yet all too easily teachers fall into this position of believing they are something else.
Statements like ‘awake’ or ‘higher consciousness’ gets thrown around and then suddenly the teacher has taken on that guru complex. You see them around; they will talk all the right words yet something feels a little off. It can be hard to put your finger on [at first], classes slowly become filled with lengthy lectures around spiritual concepts, or how to be a greater human, how to wake up to reality, etc. It can be hard to detect as a student, because yogic philosophy can break down a lot of these ideas, and I have to say, at times I touch on certain topics in my own classes. Yet what is the difference between sharing your love for the yogic traditions and dictating to your students? How do we know when a teacher is being real and authentic?
How does Ahimsa play a role in balancing this experience for everyone?
Situation two: You are teaching a class and right from the get-go the class feels terrible, you don’t feel grounded, the room is too cold, the students seem agitated and unfocused. You are hungry, tired and watching the clock. The class finally finishes, you fumble over your words to close the class, and then sheepishly shuffle to the door to let everyone out. People duck their eyes and sneak out as fast as they can, one student stops to ask you a question about the agitated hip they are experiencing, you have absolutely no idea what is wrong but you try to find a smile and reassure them to keep going with their practice and everything will be fine. You lock up, leave, looking for a hole to crawl into, feeling defeated and small, questioning why on earth you teach yoga.
The reality is, as a yoga teacher you will experience both of these situations numerous times as the years pass by. It is terribly easy to allow yourself to fall into a hole of self-destruction (whatever that may be for each individual). This hole can be deep and a teacher can start to question everything.
Both these situations are as violent as each other; they keep the person away from their centre and out of contentment. This is violent behavior towards oneself and does not keep the essence and love for teaching alive. The teacher is then left searching for the high days to ride off and as the bad days role in, continues to fall into these destructive ways. With the easy excuse of ‘its not my fault, I had a terrible class and those students didn’t like me’. This excuse is not really good enough.
These experiences and emotions can happen no matter what career path you have chosen as its life, but to be honest, it’s not yoga. Yoga is self-awareness, it is tuning in to the experiences we are having and then releasing them with humility and gratitude. I would love to say I have found that level of self-awareness and that I live in the centre but that would be a huge lie. I swing from side to side, yet what I have discovered is to ALWAYS check in. If you feel those emotions rise toward one end of the scale it is a clear sign something is out of balance. For example, if you see yourself as an island, if you truly believe you are the only person who has something to offer (in your field) or if you feel like you have had a totally unique idea, then you my dear friend are completely delusional and way out of balance.
This is violent behavior and what is worse is it affects far beyond just you, especially as a yoga teacher. When a yoga teacher doesn’t truly know what they believe and what they stand for this affects the space that is being held teaching yoga. The poses are the poses and they will work their magic. The space that is being held will affect the room and students in whole different way. Teachers are messengers who are opening up to whatever is supposed to come through. Sometimes those ‘bad’ class experiences are a reality check, a message here to bring us back down to earth, and back to the essence of Ahimsa. Therefore the ‘good’ classes are a divine gift that can be experienced with humility and gratitude. Ultimately all experiences are here to be had; with lightness in our feet and acceptance in our hearts we make our own magic.
Nicole Moyes is the founder of Raw Yoga, RYT500 and Yoga Therapist.
Nicole is inspired by movement, play and discovering the raw potential of humanity no matter where we come from.
© The Yoga Connection 2016