Practicing Yoga and Teaching Yoga: Two Directions

Teaching is a great way to motivate oneself to become proficient in yoga. As Yogi Bhajan says, “If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.” However, I found that teaching yoga turned my perception of yoga upside down, and it took me a long time to figure out the problem. 

The first time I knew about the word “yoga” was from a story about the Tibetan Yogi Milarepa, and my first yoga class started with a half-hour meditation. Furthermore, my first yoga teacher certification in China was from a Sivananda Yoga-trained teacher who always chanted at the beginning of the class, followed by Pranayama before the posture practice. All of this, combined with some meditation experience, gave me the impression that yoga is a spiritual practice for experiencing the mysterious unknown and understanding living and dying. Yet, when I was hired as an instructor at a yoga studio in Kanata, Canada, I was told that meditation is not part of a yoga class; even my favorite part, relaxation, is less than 5 minutes. In short, a yoga class is merely a fitness class!

The conflicting interpretations of yoga have always had me contemplating “what is yoga”. Despite the fact that I was told not to mention spirituality in a fitness yoga class, I was obsessed with sharing my perception of yoga until I got a hard hit. I neglected the fact that spiritual practice is not for everyone. And spiritual journey can involve risks. Mastering yoga or achieving proficiency in yoga doesn’t help. Just think about the similarities between psychosis and the Kundalini syndrome caused by Kundalini rising. It is difficult to tell the difference! Yoga, as a spiritual practice in ancient India, is for someone pursuing spirituality and is recommended to be practiced in a secluded place or ashram. In modern times with an internet-influenced world, it is wise to teach fitness yoga! 

Practicing yoga is dealing with one’s own self and requires self-discipline. Teaching yoga is dealing with others and their free will. Now that yoga has become a popular word in the modern marketplace, obsessing about what yoga is simply invites trouble; what matters is what yoga is for, for each unique individual. Obviously, no one should or can decide for others what yoga is for. Yoga is a powerful tool, and everyone has their own way of using it, whether as a yoga practitioner for improving health, reducing stress, increasing awareness, experiencing spirituality, and learning to accept death, or as a yoga teacher (or guru) to make a living, help others, and promote one’s beliefs. One doesn’t have to start a spiritual journey like a warrior with self-discipline, but one can simply practice a Warrior sequence to build strength, balance, and flexibility, or just for doing some exercise!

Like anything else, yoga evolves as time passes. Even according to the authoritative scriptures, yoga taught by the God of Death Yama in the Katha Upanishad is not the same as yoga taught by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra. While trying to promote the “real” yoga I thought it should be, I was stuck by my understanding of yoga without even being aware of it! If practicing yoga is like climbing up a mountain, then teaching yoga to others is like coming down from the mountain. They require different skills and approaches. When teaching yoga, it’s better to separate what is yoga for oneself from what is yoga for others.

The following Warrior I sequence includes three poses: Warrior I, Pyramid, and Warrior III. It starts and ends with Warrior I, with Pyramid in between Warrior I and III. The practice is to build up stability, endurance, and balance with determination.


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2 thoughts on “Practicing Yoga and Teaching Yoga: Two Directions

  1. Wonderfully written, Ivy…! This statement struck me; “Practicing yoga is dealing with one’s own self and requires self-discipline. Teaching yoga is dealing with others and their free will.” So very true! It’s obvious, and yet not so obvious at the same time.

    This one too: “If practicing yoga is like climbing up a mountain, then teaching yoga to others is like coming down from the mountain. They require different skills and approaches.”

    I also think that teaching yoga IS a way that I practice my yoga… I don’t mean the asanas… I mean that state of union with divine and with others…

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know that your article moved me and reminded me of how much I enjoyed learning from you. Happy New Year,Zofia

    ____________________________Zofia Kumassageleafyoga.ca To sign up for my monthly newsletter, please click here.

    “Yoga is the cessation of the waves of the mind. Then the Seer dwells in his own true nature.”(Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, 1.2-1.3)

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    1. Yes, the good old time 🙂
      “When the five senses are stilled, when the mind is stilled, when the intellect is stilled, that is called the highest state by the wise. They say yoga is this complete stillness in which one enters the unitive state, never to become separate again” (Katha Upanishad II.3. 10-11).

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