Like so many other yoga students in Mysore, I’m in a transitionary period in my life. I quit my job, left my flat and put all my stuff into storage (thanks for the barn space Granny).
So the big question is: what do I do with my life now? I’ll be 40 in a few years (gulp), have no professional qualifications, and no idea what I want to be when I grow up. But then I also have no significant other, no children and no property. So, theoretically speaking, I can do whatever the heck I like. But that’s just it: what do I want to do?
This is a question I’ve struggled with all my life, as I’ve never found anything I’m really passionate about. I’ve had lots of hobbies: from learning languages to playing piano, clarinet and sax; from trampolining to singing; from mountain biking to card making. But none of them have ever grabbed me enough to make me want to go deeper. Or to try and make a profession out of them for that matter.
Around 5 years ago I was introduced to a practice that would change my life in ways I could never imagine. A practice that would impact my lifestyle, my diet, my health, my sleep, my confidence, my relationships and my general perspective on life, love and the universe. A practice that keeps my mind strong as well as my body; that keeps me focussed, steady, calm and purposeful; and that helps me feel connected – to those around me, to my guru and to the divine.
I am of course talking about Ashtanga Yoga. I’ve practised a lot of yoga over the years, since I was at Uni, but mostly Hatha and Iyengar. It wasn’t until I tried Ashtanga that I knew I’d found the thing I didn’t even know I was looking for.
I started practising the day before Sri K Pattabhi Jois died, and all I knew of him was what my then-boyfriend had told me. At that point I could hardly call him my guru, however, after a few months of daily practice, watching various videos and talks and reading people’s accounts and experiences of him, I soon began to feel a connection with Guruji and a great sadness that he had passed away. I instantly felt great respect for his grandson Sharath and wanted to support and share in the legacy of the Jois family. I believe in parampara and learning from the original lineage, so it wasn’t long before I was talking about going to Mysore, to practice at the source, where Sharath now runs the main shala.
For various reasons that didn’t happen until now. I’m so grateful to be here but the original question still remains. In fact it’s now louder than ever: what do I want to do with my life? And, yes, there is one answer that keeps popping up from time to time: teach yoga. I remember wanting to be a yoga teacher when I was about 19, my first Ashtanga teacher told me I’d make a great teacher one day and I was even told I should be teaching during a recent Vedic astrology reading. So why aren’t I?
One thing that’s struck me since being in Mysore is that I seem to be just about the only student here who doesn’t have any teaching experience. Well, unless you can count showing the Surya Namaskaras (sun salutations) to a couple of friends on holiday once. So many people I’ve met here, even if they’ve been practising fewer years than me and are further back in the asana series than me (not that it’s about that, but you get the point), seem to be teaching already. And I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.
So why haven’t I started teaching yet? Fear? Lack of opportunity? Lack of motivation? Being stuck in a full-time job? Too busy practising? Or is it to do with the whole Ashtanga teacher training debate? According to tradition, Ashtanga Yoga should only be taught via parampara, i.e. handed down from the guru to each of his students. Students are given the next asana in the series only when their guru thinks they’re ready and they’re not permitted to teach until they have their guru’s official authorisation. But in reality this isn’t always strictly the case and many students pay for teacher training courses. Even if these are offered by senior teachers who were taught directly by Guruji himself, according to tradition this isn’t the way it should be done.
During his weekly conferences, Sharath continuously reminds us that we shouldn’t be doing teacher trainings. He says “Doing asanas all day destroys your body; destroys your mind.” “Shouldn’t do teacher trainings, just practice for 15 years. That’s your teacher training.” “In 500 hours you become a yogi? Definitely not! Takes 500 lives.”
So how do I reconcile this very clear instruction given by my guru with the desire to teach? Should I stick to tradition and keep coming back to Mysore each year in the hopes that one day I’ll get authorised? That’s the way my teacher has done it after all and I have great respect for him. Or do I jump on the bandwagon and sign up for a teacher training course?
I can’t see how I would be able to teach without knowing at least some basic anatomy. Oh, hang on, I’m currently studying an Anatomy & Physiology correspondence course, so I guess that’s not much of an excuse. Ok, what about adjustments then? Surely you can’t be expected to get authorised and then step into the shala as an assistant without ever having adjusted anyone in your life?
And that’s where the boundaries start to get a bit blurry. I wholeheartedly agree with the traditional way and want to follow it as fully as I can. But it’s based on a time when there were very few students, when Guruji could provide individual attention and would give people particular asanas based on their individual capabilities and physiological limitations. Nowadays thousands of people flock to Mysore every year and my best estimate tells me there are roughly 80-100 people practising in the shala at any one time. Sharath does an amazing job of keeping track of everyone and must have a photographic memory, but I wonder how long tradition will be able to reign in the face of increasing popularity and sheer numbers of people wanting to practice and teach. More to the point, is there enough room for all these teachers or will supply start to outdo demand?
In the meantime, my dilemma continues. Should I just sit it out and wait? Just keep practising, gain more experience and wait until the right time or opportunity presents itself? Or should I take action and seek out opportunities to teach, even if it’s primarily to deepen my own practice, but going directly against my own guru’s instruction?
While I wait to see how this quandary plays out inside my head (and heart), I’ll continue to get on my mat every day with utter devotion and total gratitude – that I’ve found a practice which brings meaning to my life, provides a continually changing perspective and, ultimately, completes me. Whether it becomes my profession or not.
* These photos were taken during a recent photo shoot, which I decided to do partly just for fun and partly because I have no photos of myself doing asana practice. Plus, they might come in handy if I want to teach one day 😉