Being a great teacher of any kind requires a great mix of responsibility, humility and passion.
Without passion, the teachings don’t come to life (you might as well just read out of a book); without humility the jaws of ego start gnashing, pedestals are constructed, and unsavory power dynamics emerge; without a sense of responsibility for the students and the lineage of the teaching, information can be taken out of context, misrepresented and misunderstood.
“Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru devo Maheshwara,
Guru sakshat, param Brahma, tasmai shri guravay namah” The Guru Mantra
What is a guru? A master; a leader; a teacher with fanatical devotees?
Lets break it down: Gu- darkness, Ru- remover. So a Guru is the remover of darkness, one who brings light. What was once unseen becomes seen, what was unknown is now known. This is the enlightenment principle, of moving into awareness.
The chant above shows that the Guru comes in many forms: Brahma (the divine force of creation), Vishnu (this life we have been given), devo Maheshvara (our challenges and illnesses as a force for growth and transformation), sakshat (the guru nearby, possibly someone unassuming we pass by in life), param Brahma (the teacher beyond, formless and supreme). So you see Guru, doesn’t even require a body, it’s more of a concept of shedding light on what was once dark.
For a Guru/teacher in human form to feel a sense of ownership to the teachings, is to misunderstand the purpose of Guru, which is that of a conduit of knowledge, rather than a possessor of it.
To teach is to both lead and serve.
Wearing the leader hat, teachers must first create a space with clear, safe boundaries within which the learning occurs, then act as guide for the students' learning experience. BUT the teacher is also in service of the students' needs; listening and adapting if the student needs something different from what was planned.
Yoga teachers in particular have a broad set of topics to cover: we teach movement, self-care, history, philosophy and language. We hold space for multifaceted exploration as students integrate the teachings through layers of their being/ Koshas**. Thus yoga is most certainly NOT ‘one-size-fits-all’ NOR a banking approach to education—ie where we make knowledge deposits and voila, the student is educated.
In service of the students who wish to use yoga therapeutically ie- beyond physical exercise, the practice must to be customised to individual needs.
Yoga is inherently a process in which both the student and teacher co-create the learning experience.
Yoga teachers offer up a buffet of potential experiences like asana, pranayama and themes for contemplation, but not every practice or teaching will be right for every student. THIS is the process. Students adapt, teachers adapt and we find a place where the yoga practice starts to fit like a comfy pair of trackies; creating ease where there is stiffness; energy where there is inertia; challenge where there is laziness, and all the while, deepening awareness getting glimpses of the true, clear, undisturbed nature of the mind.
Beyond the Yoga Mat.
Once our classes come to a close, many of us yoga teachers are also by default business people. Whether we run studios, or operate as solo-entrepreneurs we consciously or unconsciously embody our individual brand based on our personality and unique teaching style. Having to thrust this personal brand under the light of marketing and 21st century commerce can be a confronting process. And by stepping out, inviting others to follow what we teach is a daring act of leadership, which comes with great responsibility to our lineage, the great teachers who have come before us and of course our students.
In terms of being a yogi-preneur I wanted to share 4 yogic teachings that have defined my first year of business; encompassing my personal development and emerging leadership style.
#1 APARIGRAHA (non-grasping)
“Holding on to things and being free are two mutually exclusive states. Our best security lies in taking down our fences and barricades and allowing ourselves to grow, and through that growth becoming stronger and yet more resilient” Donna Farhi
Launching a business requires a good dose of confidence and belief that there will be people who want what we are offering, and once we start to attract the right customers and business grows, we may find ourselves holding tight to our achievements, guarding our success, our IP, our ideas incase we ‘lose it’ or worse, others might copy us!
Since the beginning I needed to work hard on developing a strong sense of trust, both personally and professionally, which I have pretty much reverse engineered by focusing instead on Aparigraha.
I meditate on Aparigraha, to let go of attachment to results, while keeping soft focus on my ultimate goal so I can still steer my business in the direction of my dreams. This can be a tricky double-edged sword, because we need goals and plans in business, however when we hold on too tight, we become rigid and close ourselves off to possibility.
If you love something let it go to let it grow!
Now, simply letting go and casting my business to the wind in the spirit of Aparigraha, is NOT a sure fire ticket to success, we must do the work. To let go without doing the work is laziness and a path to failure.
Tapas is our firey discipline, our consistency and commitment. This has been a very important ingredient for me as an entrepreneur, because so often I find myself having to do work I don’t particularly like and things I’m not particularly skilled at, like technical website things and finance stuff-- I know I'm such a cliche. Tapas keeps me showing up even if it's hard and I’m not in the mood.
But this firey discipline is not about thrashing ourselves in to burn out, leaving a trail of damaged relationships on the path towards wealth and success. It’s about finding a sense of ease and commitment amidst challenge. Judith Lasater puts it beautifully…
“The spirit of tapas is “decisions with a soft heart”: the willingness to follow through with difficult decisions while maintaining compassion for all the effects that those decisions might have for self and others.“ Judith Lasater
# 3 SATYA
“Can attention to honesty be a strategy by which we wake up to interconnectedness and act from a place of friendliness, compassion, delight and equanimity? Can we apply the yama of honesty to every aspect of our lives, from how we speak with others to how we determine how much we really need?” Michael Stone
The teaching of Satya is such a good one since the world we live in is entrenched in Avidya (misknowing) and plenty of outright dishonesty. Satya informs my approach to branding, marketing and relationships. I strive to be authentic, honest and aligned with my truth so I can walk the talk everyday and not judge or speak badly of others for doing things differently. And I’ll reinforce… ‘striving’ because, I’m not always exactly where I need to be on this.
And with regard to personal truth, one of the most unexpected aspects of my first year as a yogi-preneur was a realization that…
There is no shortage of ideas, opportunities and people to work with, SO BE SELECTIVE!!
Being a typical Pitta (fire type in Ayurveda) I’m full of passion and enthusiasm and I run towards many things all at once. But I also juggle business with family and I can’t maintain as many projects as I used to, so with each new opportunity I need to ask myself honestly- Is this really what I need to be doing right now? Does it resonate with my mission/ my truth? Is it my Dharma?
#4 ISHVARA PRANIDHANA
“ Let us dedicate our lives for the sake of the entire humanity. With every minute, every breath, every atom of our bodies we should repeat this mantra ‘ dedication, dedication, giving giving, loving loving’ “ From Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda Sutra 2.1
Ishvara speaks to an intelligence greater than our own (some say God or The Divine).
Ishvara Pranidhana is to surrender our personal will to this greater intelligence so we can fulfill our Dharma.
With respect to how I do business, this translates to getting to work, focusing on teaching great classes and offering it all up in service of my students, the extraordinary interconnected nature of all things, and for the purpose of creating positive impact.
My work as a yoga teacher is both completely pragmatic, grounded in the body and in the world but it is also a spiritual path informed by my own personal growth. My life and freedom is bound up with all beings with live on this planet and so my Dharma as a yogini is to share my path and love of this practice with anyone who also wants to deepen their awareness to the true nature of things.
I would love to hear any thoughts from yogis, entrepreneurs as well as yogi-preneurs about how yoga teachings and business intersects for you. It’s fascinating territory, as we move towards a widely recognised ‘Mindful Revolution’, and more and more people are gravitating towards deep self-reflection to make meaningful connections, and develop greater compassion and awareness in the way we live and do business.
** The Koshas are 5 sheaths of our being, which include physical body, energetic body, the lower/emotional mind, the higher/intellectual mind and Pure Being/ consciousness.