Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ethics - What do you look for in a teacher?

I was just speaking with a friend regarding choices we make about who we select as our teacher(s). There are so many styles of Yoga and types of people teaching it. First you have to find a teacher that offers a type of Yoga that appeals to you. Then it's important to find someone who actually knows what they're doing.

This might sound crazy, but anyone can spend 2 days at a workshop and walk away with a sheet of paper calling them a "certified Yoga teacher." (While looking for a link to show you one of these pathetic offerings, I found worse. You can actually buy a Yoga certification. That's right, for just $49.99 you can buy "the ExpertRating Yoga Instructor Certification". Sounds like you pay money, they send you a manual, you take a written online test (based off the manual), and then your certificate is sent out.) With that said, I've had teachers with no certification and some with Yoga Alliance approved certification--requiring at least 200 hours of training in various subsets of Yoga, such as anatomy and philosophy. In many cases, the one with less formal training is better. All that training doesn't make you a great teacher, but hopefully you at least understand alignment and Yoga a little better. Again, I've found this is not always the case.

My friend currently attends a class with a very knowledgeable woman. We'll call her Mary. Mary has studied Iyengar Yoga with Iyengar and many of his senior teachers for 30 years. She leads a well-structured class and has a firm understanding of how to guide students. My friend feels safe in this class and appreciates how Mary is able to watch and ensure folks don't overextend themselves. Sounds great, right? The catch is that after class, Mary is a judgemental and mean person. This really bothers my friend and she's questioning whether-or-not to continue attending a class given by someone that she can't respect or like as a person. There is another teacher, in the Anusara style, that she can go to. This gal is very sweet and nice, but she keeps stressing the class to go a little further--take it deeper. I have heard this frequently in Anusara--constant encouragement to "take it to the next level." (A blog topic for another day.) My friend is concerned that she could easily get hurt in such a class.

Who does my friend go to? The meanie that actually knows how to teach or the kind woman that pushes too far?

I also struggle with this. There is a teacher that really knows his stuff. But he is pretentious and (in my opinion) looks down on many of his students. In many ways he wants to be treated as a guru (see my post on gurus and Doug Keller's post--much more profound than mine). When seated in class on the floor for even 3-4 hours, you are not to straighten your legs as he says it is disrespectful to point your feet at him. Lying down, even if your body aches from sitting so long, is out of the question. I honor his classroom and do as he requests. However, there are a number of things he says that tell me his ego is inflated like an oversized beach ball. Not the kind of guy I'd like to hang around with. The catch is, he has so much knowledge that can help me improve as a teacher and in my practice of Yoga. Ethically, I'm a bit torn as to whether-or-not I will study with him in 2008.

John Friend says and does a lot of things. Some of which I am strongly against and some of which I agree. He once said that after you've been practicing for a while, to stop and look at your life. Are you a more compassionate, understanding, kind, and loving person? Or are you self-centered, judgemental, uncaring, or cruel? If you find the latter to be true, then look at your practice. Alter and use your practice to help you become more compassionate and caring in your life. This is good stuff. And that is where my question comes in.

If these teachers truly understand Yoga and practice it in a heartful way, then why are their egos so big and their judgements so quick? Is it best to only learn from a teacher that emanates compassion and love? What if you do not respect their way of life? Is it important, or even necessary, to respect or admire how they live their life, or does it not matter once the mats are rolled up and put away? Is it wisest to turn a blind eye to that person outside of class while still honoring, respecting, and learning from the knowledge they have acquired during class? If we ignore the teachers that don't suit us on a personal or ethical level, are we 'throwing out the baby with the bathwater?'

More questions than answers today.
Any insights are much appreciated.


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!


Rob Pugh said...

I'd say you'd be better off, emotionally and physically, from learning yoga [or anything, really] from someone who resonates with you, as opposed to someone "really knows his stuff." Cause like you say, if they are very not cool folks when the class is over, I'd hazard a guess they don't "really" know it. If something makes you uncomfortable, chances are it's not for you. [Once you've let go of superficial judgements and made an effort, of course.] Learn what you can, and move on. But once you're even asking these questions, you're probably already past the point of it being useful to you. imho, of course.

shinyyoga said...

ohhh goodie - i love reading posts where you nod and laugh and just want to write back right away!! Thanks Kris, this is one of them : )

As a new-ish yoga teacher (2 years teaching) I have to say first and foremost.. you NEVER stop learning. I learnt exactly how little i knew when I started teaching... in a fab way - that there is so much out there to discover!

and I agree with Rob above.. i have had teachers who know everything.. but in their 'knowledge' of history and movement, have lost touch with the human on the mat.

I encourage my students to try out different classes at different times of their life, and not just the styles, but the teachers too. Heck - there are some classes/teachers I can't stand.. not for any reason other than we don't gel.

Ethics can also change over time - so I just encourage ppl to try things out, and FEEL their way.

Oh, and one last point on this long post... I am always telling my students to stop and relax when they need to, but (especialy in my gym classes) many students don't. SO the 'pushing' can happen not just from the teacher.. but also the student, no matter what you suggest!

Nadine Fawell said...

Hi Kris!

Really great post. I wonder, does your friend not have other options by way of teachers? Because it sounds like neither is REALLY kind - pushing too hard in class is almost as bad as being mean outside of it.

I think, on balance, kindness is the most important quality for a yoga teacher. Even if you don't know what you are doing, as I feel I frequently don't, harm doesn't tend to arise with a kind, present teacher.

Thanks for bringing this up - may I post an excerpt on my blog?

Total Health Yoga - Kris said...

Thanks for all the feedback and thoughs! Nadine, feel free to post any part or parts that you'd like--and thanks for your interest.

Linda (Sama) said...

"then why are their egos so big and their judgements so quick?"

because they are human. nothing more, nothing less.

I left a studio where I loved teaching because I got tired of the owner walking into my classes drunk. She is an alcoholic, an alcoholic who does not yet own her addiction. She has taught her classes drunk, and has lied to and manipulated the teachers. frankly, the phrase "yoga community" right now makes me gag.

It's too long of a story to get into and I wouldn't here anyway, but I am dealing with lots of rage over it. not the alcoholism, but the lies and deception that the studio is built upon.

here is an excellent post about ego and the student/teacher relationship by my cyberpal, Mike:

rand(om) bites said...

Oh hon, what a thought provoking post and one that all of us think about. I have so many thoughts on this. I go to several different classes depending on what I need from my practice at any given time but the teacher I resonate with the most has been the one that has actually taken the time to get to know me a little and offers advice and careful adjustments to help me grow. She is da bomb of yoga teachers in my humble opinion :-)

I don't tend to go to classes where the teacher doesn't even acknowledge me. I find that they seem too *busy* or *important* to be there in the first place and the classes seem cold. I know there is a lesson in that but then I'd rather practice at home.

We are all human at the end of the day and no one is perfect but I do expect any teacher I practice under to walk the talk. With anyone I meet in life, the people I respect are the people doing this. We all fall off the wagon but it's what we do most of the time that counts. I *believe* in people more when I see the passion and commitment of what it is they do and teach. Tapas plays a big part in me enjoying and wanting to attend a teacher's class. If they're not enjoying it, how will I?

In regards to what one does in their private life? It's not my business. I wouldn't like to be judged for what I enjoy doing in my private time. That kinda sounds kinky doesn't it? You know what I mean. Having said that though, if I do hear about something really uncool, I just can't go back to that teacher's class. I can't support a teacher if they abuse their role.

Oh and I wouldn't go to someone who got their certification from the internet. There is far too much to learn and experience oneself in regards to asana. All my teachers have been taught by people who are known in the yoga world and highly respected. This is important to me.

It's funny, sometimes I might not like a teacher's style initially but then after I've gone to a few more classes, I find I enjoy it and look forward to it. Another reason I go to a couple of different classes, I don't want to become complacent with my practice.

I've rambled and it probably might not all make sense but I hope this gives you another insight. Thanks for the post!

Total Health Yoga - Kris said...

Thanks for the post, Om Bites (Mary?). I agree with everything you said. You raise an excellent point, "We all fall off the wagon but it's what we do most of the time that counts." Well said!