“Just” Teaching Yoga

Note: Chelsea Roff is on assignment at the Advanced Vinyasa Teacher Training in Montana with LiveLoveTeach. Stay tuned for her updates and wrap-ups this week.

“They’re just teaching yoga.”

That’s the phrase that keeps coming to mind. It’s not like they’re curing cancer or feeding hungry people…. Right?

The teachers here — these “just yoga teachers” — speak about what they do with such passion, listen so intently… that I’ve started questioning why it is I think teaching yoga is a valuable service. Why do I care so much? It’s just teaching yoga, right? But after just one day, I’ve seen four women break into (joyful) tears describing what they do. It’s like they believe the lives of the people in their class depend on their “being present” with them. Like helping students breathe, feel their bodies, and connect to the other people in the room with them could lead to world peace.

But it’s just yoga, right? Or at least that’s what my skeptic within always shouts when I hang out with a group of insanely-inspired yoga teachers. What’s the impact REALLY gonna be? Are the parents in my class going to love their children deeper because of the way I taught sun saluations? Are the anorexics on the mat going to go home and eat dinner because of a gentle, reassuring assist in half pigeon?

See, this is where we start to see what’s underneath the “you will teach overflowing classes and workshops” LiveLoveTeach advertises. Perhaps that’s the natural consequence of a truly effective yoga teacher, but it seems inconsequential from where I’m sitting. The deepest impact… well, as I said yesterday, it seems to happen in the subtle spaces. In the meeting of eyes, the smile of acknowledgment, the momentary connection with one student.

Maybe when we let go of all the ambitious desires to be a great teacher or help the world. . .

… maybe that’s where the yoga unfolds. So are we “just” teaching yoga? Can the experience of being seen, of building and releasing tension, of learning to slow your breath when your heart feels like it’s going to leap out of its chest… be enough to initiate healing, forgiveness, even liberation for one person? Well, with the passion and intent (teach from love, not from fear) these guys teach from — my goodness, it almost seems plausible. Heck, if we taught people to bag groceries like that… maybe we could heal the world (and ourselves) that way too.

But in some ways, this idea makes me extraordinarily uncomfortable. That “it’s just yoga” phrase keeps coming up, I suppose from a part of me that believes I have to DO or ACHIEVE something great (like a get a Ph.D. or win a Nobel prize) to be enough, to be worthy of life. But what if anything we do — if done with great Love — is enough? Whether it’s teaching yoga or trading stocks… if we do it in a way that honors the being on the other side of the equation, maybe we really have done all we need to do to create a more peaceful world.

Let’s be honest though, all of this conversation can get a little self-inflating and overzealous if we’re not careful. Yoga teachers especially tend to get on this “if everyone in the world just did yoga…” high horse without any real evidence for whether the practice they’re teaching is having a real impact beyond the mat. And part of me thinks, you know what? It’s okay to “just” teach yoga. It’s okay to “just” bag groceries. As the Bhagavad Gita says,

One who is unattached to the fruits of his work and who works as he is obligated… (s)he is the true mystic.

So perhaps the best question for us to ask ourselves is this… What is the measure of a truly effective yoga teacher? Is it their students’ ability to pop themselves into some crazy arm balance, or is it their capacity to share and experience love?

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- who has written 43 posts on Yoga Modern.

Chelsea Roff is a writer by day and yoga teacher by night, a weaver of words as well as of asanas. She is Managing Editor at YogaModern.com, and her writing has been featured by Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, Wanderlust Festival and the Hanuman Festival. Chelsea is passionate about using online media to inspire action that serves a greater cause -- whether it be the expansion of knowledge, support of our global community, or improvement of planetary and personal health. She travels the country teaching yoga in the most non-traditional of spaces, from cocktail parties to public protests to centers for at-risk youth. In Dallas, Chelsea helped start a yoga service organization that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons. Chelsea currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.

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