Are you an asana teacher or yoga teacher? A big problem in modern yoga is that teachers are labeled incorrectly. Most yoga teachers actually teach only a small part of yoga i.e., asana or the physical practice of yoga. But end up calling themselves yoga teachers. This has created a lot of problems for yoga.
Traditionally, yoga was passed on through the guru shishya parampara (teacher-disciple tradition) for centuries. Becoming a yoga teacher was not an option available to all. Yogis were always mindful that if this information fell into the wrong hands it would be misused & misinterpreted. You see this happening all the time in the modern yoga world.
While making this distinction seems simple. There’s more to it than what meets the eye. Over the many decades that yoga has made its way all over the world, it’s been diluted & reduced to mere fitness or a stretching regime. Or worse, people have started selling their own biased, half-assed interpretations & opinions for yoga. Becoming a yoga teacher is seen as trendy & the age of the average yoga teacher has gotten younger with each passing decade. Not only is this appropriation of yoga in so many ways. It’s like we’ve lost our heading in the modern world with what is yoga?
Making this distinction between yoga teachers & asana teachers is important for a variety of reasons. But know that there’s nothing wrong with being an asana teacher alone. Asana is an undeniable part of yoga. But teaching yoga comes with more responsibility. Especially if you live in North America where yoga is appropriated every passing day by yoga teachers, studio, teacher trainings & corporates who’ve made billions off of yoga.
Recently, I had a white yoga teacher tell me to send students her way because she taught all 8 limbs. I didn’t expect this to hurt but it did. Why? Because yet again, a white person thinks he/she knows more about yoga than someone like me who’s born & raised a Hindu from India living in the tradition of yoga.
Secondly, if one thinks they can teach all 8 limbs they’re either a yogi or a fool. The antar angas (the last 3 limbs of yoga – dharana, dhyana & samadhi) cannot be taught. So to think you can teach it as a mere asana teacher is nothing but a sad joke. Yet again an example of how we do a little asana and think we know all of yoga.
5 reasons to decide if you’re a yoga teacher or asana teacher?
This distinction informs people in a larger context that asanas or yoga poses aren’t what yoga is only about. Asana is an integral part of yoga, yes. But it’s not the only part. There are 7 other equally significant parts or limbs of yoga. Labeling ourselves correctly creates less confusion for ourselves and others.
It creates an opportunity for curiosity to blossom about “what else is yoga”?. For the teacher & the student alike. Many yoga students & yoga teachers think asana is the start and end of yoga. Sadly. This gets peddled down through yoga studios, teacher trainings, apparel brands, and streaming platforms that make yoga another workout.
This distinction reminds us of the 1000s of years of Hindu tradition where teachers passed on yoga with utmost reverence & care. Yoga is a cultural practice. You can’t deny that. More importantly, you need to respect it. As yoga teachers, we’ve skipped over the part of being respectful & responsible as we teach this ancient Indian practice.
It gives the students the ability to seek out better guidance & not be limited by asana or incompetent teachers who haven’t yet understood what it means to teach yoga. Not all yoga teachers are bad, but many have been misguided by their yoga teachers who had vested interests. And you have lost track of what it means to teach yoga.
It creates a much-needed opportunity to raise the bar for asana teachers, teacher trainings & the yoga world by being honest about where our main skills lie. It serves yoga in the long term. This is where our focus needs to be. Instead of creating more divide every single day.
If you’re lead a yoga studio, or run yoga teacher trainings, remember to make this distinction to your trainees or staff on day one. The yoga world will be a better place if we start making small changes like this to bring more clarity & correct the harm done.