I just read Angela Jamison's latest post on the Ashtanga Yoga Ann Arbor blog, where she discusses in engaging detail that million-dollar Ashtanga question: How do you know when you are ready (or not ready) to teach Ashtanga? I encourage you to read her very intensely thoughtful and utterly honest post in its entirety, but here's an excerpt that really speaks to me:
"For ashtanga teachers, transitioning from sadhana to seva (from
self-focused practice, to service) can be weird. It can stunt one’s
growth dramatically if done without sufficient (1) preparation as a
student, and (2) support from teachers and community. When this
transition is made because the student puts herself in the teaching
role, and not because her own teachers identify her as sufficiently
skilled and prepared to teach, the challenges just mentioned are
(Subtext: do not get in to ashtanga teaching unless you
full-on cannot avoid it. Resist!! Don’t give yourself over to it unless
you basically have to do it in order for your own practice to grow, and unless you have tons of support.)
Given these challenges, most teachers need active, invested mentors
to whom they are accountable. (I do.) They need a (1) clear method and
(2) a sense of history to keep from getting confused. They need to have
strong equanimity and mental clarity, so they can (1) stand outside
today’s “yoga” market and culture hype and (2) influence that culture
Teachers need to be able to identify, and resist, the ego’s urge to
use teaching to feed root chakra needs: money, sex, power, and
(Subtext: yoga BS, and yoga scandals, happen when teachers
don’t have all the support they need. Or when they fail to realize that
they actually do have sufficient money, sex, power and attention – and
thus they constantly grasp after more and more of the same. This happens
when we don’t have anyone to call us on our, well, crap.)"
Reading Angela's words above and reflecting on my life of mostly self-practice over the last few years, I can appreciate that what has happened to me over the last few years is really no accident. If you read this blog regularly, you will know that over the last few years, I have, on several occasions, entertained the notion of teaching or "sharing" the practice with others, and although I have made a few limited ventures in this area, none of these ventures have led to anything big or long-lasting.
Reflecting on Angela's words above, I can see that the "failures" of my forays into teaching Ashtanga thus far are actually not bad things at all, from a big picture point of view. While there is probably nothing inherently wrong with sharing my limited knowledge of the practice with others, it is still nevertheless true that I was never in a position where I "full-on cannot avoid" teaching; I was never in a position where I had to teach in order for my practice to grow. As they say, everything happens (or does not happen) for a reason: I am quite convinced that in not teaching Ashtanga over the last few years, I was in fact protected from the vicissitudes of today's yoga scene; a scene which, as many of you know, is more often than not driven by the forces of the free market than by people who genuinely know what they are doing. Angela speaks quite bluntly about this pitfall of the contemporary American yoga scene when she writes:
"The majority of yoga teachers are exploited. Exploiting them is easy
because they’re inexperienced as practitioners and poorly trained as
teachers. But exploitation, inexperience and poor training don’t help
anyone – not really.
...here’s the thing. Trying to pretend you know what yoga is when
your practice is not fully developed is a formula for arrested
development. Thrusting a person into this job for matters of convenience
is not cool. It’s the
reason western yoga is full of elementary-level instruction trying to
pass itself off as something more by adding special effects.
(Subtext: when you meet someone who wants you to teach
regardless of whether you’re ready, and for matters of their own
convenience, is that your teacher? Do you deserve better?)"
These are definitely sobering words for this "fake-it-till-you-make-it" capitalistic culture that we live in, in which it seems that virtually everybody wants to be seen as an expert of one kind or another, whether or not they actually really know what they are doing or saying.
On a slightly different but related note, at her LA workshop last weekend, Kino also briefly addressed this question of when one is ready to teach Ashtanga. During one of the sessions at her workshop last weekend, she related this humorous story of a very physically-talented student she met during her workshop in Taiwan. Apparently, this student, who had a background in martial arts, was doing Ashtanga for the very first time in his life (apparently, he had accompanied a friend to the workshop and was taking the workshop along with the friend to keep the friend company). Seeing that he seemed to be quite physically able, Kino asked him if he could try jumping through with straight legs. After hearing her description, this student effortlessly accomplished a straight-legged jump-through on his very first attempt ever; an accomplishment which took Kino herself many years to achieve.
Anyway, the point of Kino's story is this: You know you are ready to teach Ashtanga yoga when you can look at people who are more advanced in the practice than you are (or who can effortlessly do things that took you a long time and a lot of effort to accomplish), and genuinely rejoice and be happy at their abilities, without being envious of them or even being resentful of their achievements.
Well, all I can say is this: Using Kino's yardstick, I know for sure that I am definitely not ready to teach Ashtanga. If it's okay with you, I'm not going to go into the details here. But I think you get where I'm coming from...