I teach a lot of teacher trainings.
Usually three to six trainings a year, at the 200 and 300 hour level. At every training I run into expectations, from inspired yogis who want to absorb as much as they can so they can head out into the world and share their passion. They want to learn alignment. Sequences. Variations. Some of them even want to learn anatomy, but only if this particular realm of education requires no reading and can come in pill-form.
But what I’ve seen is that you don’t need to be a master of sequencing or memorize the location of the scaphoid bone in order to be an effective teacher.
The best teachers I’ve met are not the most knowledgeable.
Beyond anything else, every yoga teacher really only needs to know these two things.
1. Teach what you know.
I once witnessed a great teacher, Mark Whitwell, deliver a potent talk on teaching yoga. “You don’t need teacher training,” he said flatly. He was, of course, saying this to a room full of Teacher Trainees. Anxiety spread through the room. Most of us had spent thousands of dollars and put work on hold. The studio owner and director at the back of the room raised his eyebrows. Mark went on: “You only need to teach what you know.”
Just teach what you know.
I was stunned when I first considered this. As a lifelong perfectionist I thought I’d never be qualified to teach yoga. But the implication in Mark’s words is that we know everything we need already. We have all the tools we need. If all you know is how to protect your spine in downward facing dog, then teach that. If all you know is how to lengthen your exhales, then teach that. Whatever you know about yoga, pass it on to the people around you. Teach your sister, your friend, your partner (ask for permission first unless you want things to get awkward).
The trick here lies in not over-reaching beyond your experience. Yoga students are a conscious breed; they’ll sniff your BS a mile away. If you don’t know much about metatarsals, that doesn’t mean you can’t teach standing poses. It just means you need to emphasize what you do know, from your own practice and experience, in order to deliver an authentic experience to your students.
Of course, if you want to develop as a yogi and a teacher, then education will help you hone your tools and prepare you for the myriad challenges—and surprises—that await you. But in the meantime, teach what you know. Even after your education has evolved—stick with teaching that which you feel confident about.
2. You don’t know very much
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s, there are few.” - Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki
They say a beginner doesn’t know much about yoga. She’s open, with a beginner’s mind. Her cup is empty. New material is soaked up quickly. Progression is rapid. An intermediate student starts to learn the basics, and she begins to know a little something about yoga.
An advanced yogi, believe it or not, knows less.
A truly advanced yogi knows how little she knows about yoga.
She knows that, in the enormous tradition of yoga, she has only just begun to scratch the surface. She knows there will always be more to study, and more to learn. In a sense, the advanced yogi know she can always be a beginner.
That’s perhaps the thing about this tradition that I love the most: it’s endless. I’m confident that I could spend the rest of my life diving deep into just one aspect of yoga, and still never become a master. That’s exciting to me.
The good news here is you don’t need to spend $5,000 and 200 hours to learn these two lessons. If you’re lucky, your Teacher Training will emphasize these principles: that you are already worthy of calling yourself a teacher today, and that you should always keep learning. But you don’t need the training to learn that.
Because, after all, did you really think 200 hours of Teacher Training could make you an expert on a 4,000 year old tradition of Self-Realization?
Then you definitely don’t know very much. You’re on your way.