Teaching, Teachings and the Art of Becoming

I think it is far too easy to become a yoga teacher these days. With the operative word being become. Teaching, to me at least, seems to be an art of becoming. One in which you are devoted to the interplay between teaching the teachings and the teachings teaching you. It is a tango between exploration and delivery—a dance that costs more than a couple grand and two hundred hours of your time.

This is not to say the two hundred or more hours of grueling work one undertakes in a teacher training is worthless and for not. It is a perfect place to start. It is a useful launching pad. We must begin somewhere. Somewhere is better than nowhere. Somewhere marks the map of our becoming. Still, two hundred hours of study does not make one a teacher of yoga. It makes one a student of teaching yoga.

Teaching is not only a set of observation and articulation skills. It is not only the theoretical and conceptual knowledge. It is also a certain presence of having walked that knowledge. It is the presence of having tested the articulation and observation. It is the embodiment of the concept one is trying to convey. If the first form of learning is imitation, then as Rudolph Steiner said: “we must be worthy of imitation”. It is our presence, our own embodiment, that is the teaching itself. So two hundred hours of study is the beginning, not the end of one’s becoming a yoga teacher.

Perhaps we should worry less about becoming yoga teachers and concern ourselves more with becoming yogic teachings.

Come to think of it, I cannot even believe the audacity I had at twenty years old to teach a yoga class to a room full of people. It wasn’t like the class was a couple people in my back yard. It was like forty in a university gym. I had not even gone through a formal teacher training yet. To my own credit I had been practicing for four years before I dared to open my mouth to articulate a practice. And you only have to practice for two or sometimes one year before entering some teacher trainings.

I used to egregiously pride myself on this. As if I was some yoga-teaching prodigy. Waltzing in like a know-it-all. As if I was the hot ticket to hanumanasana and enlightenment in seventy-five minutes all under the age of twenty-three. Frankly I think that is some version of crazy. It is a miracle I did not hurt more people along the way.

We are a culture that prizes the archetype of the young prodigy over the wise crone. We are a society of do-more and be-more as quickly as possible. I certainly benefited from this leaning early on. But I’ll be honest with you the road has dead-ended. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. There is no get out of jail free card in the deck. Some people might call this Saturn Return. I call it “Quite wining, grow the fuck up, and be grateful for Life.” Rather than shove the process of yoga into the chaos of grow up and get rich, maybe we could still ourselves long enough to notice the process of becoming that is unfolding within us. That is witness consciousness. That is stillness in motion. 

A good friend once told me "you have to go through every age. If you skip one, eventually you go back." Well I can assure you this comment is accurate. I skipped right on through my adolescence into premature adulthood. And I went back. I went back hard. I am only now, in the past two years emerging from the fog of my adolescent repair. I consider myself lucky. There are others, much older than myself still trying to heal that cycle of life.  I also tucked away my creative young child nature in favor of the wise observant elder. Though I hope to retain my “Old Soul” spirit, the young She is reemerging stronger every day. Thank God.

Back to the yoga scene, I was handed things on a silver platter when I first started teaching yoga. Albeit grateful, I took advantage. I didn’t have to build a following from the ground up when I first started teaching. But I have had to go back to the beginning three times. I cannot waltz onto the scene as the next hot ticket. I have to earn the trust and respect of everyone I come in contact with. Frankly, the only way that seems possible is through the honest and earnest practice for practice. Practice for becoming the teaching I am practicing.

You can’t just skip the stage of the grunt work my fledgling teacher friends. Just so you know. Enjoy it while it lasts. The hard work is coming. The art of becoming is not glorious. Its not really one to follow on twitter or trend on Facebook. The art of becoming someone, that someone being yourself and having the chutzpah to sit that self down as Teacher is some serious business.

The yogis call it krama and deeksha. The shrinks call it human development. The yogis call it svadhaya. The shrinks call it self-knowing. These processes are all dependent on time. Time for digestion and integration.


Anyone can imitate. As noted earlier, it is the first step in learning. We are designed to do it. Though to make the leap from imitation and emulation to authentic delivery is a hard won process, not a flash in the pan success. What moves us out of the land of imitation and into the wellspring of authenticity? Time, practice, love, life, falling, recognizing success and practicing some more.

I pride myself now on the teachings I have earned and not so much the ones I have learned. I have learned many teachings from various traditions. Consuming knowledge is not lacking. I could probably regurgitate a ton of “stuff” if you asked.

Trust me, the ways in which I have become the information, digested, integrated, chosen to embody and articulate the teachings; is far more interesting and worthy of your attention.

There is a saying quite popular now; “Be the teachings”. From what I can tell, this is the simplest and most profound way to teach—being the teaching you are trying to teach.

I can help you. I can show you what you see. I can stand in the fire with you. But I must be worthy of your imitation. So that’s what I am working on.

Livia ShapiroComment