Yoga Teaching is not Seva

The first Yogi I knew...
The first Yogi I knew..

I read an article recently about yoga teaching as a career (unsurprisingly it was in Yoga Journal). The author inaccurately stated that in traditions like “Sivananda” that teaching yoga is viewed as “seva” or service. Here’s why I think this is inaccurate…

I think we’re in trouble if we give over to this attitude that our yoga class is serving others, even if we are not being paid for it. Serving others means being in the moment and responding with whatever the need may be. At times, yes, this may be offering what we know or what we have experienced to someone with a need for this information. It may also be washing the dishes, listening, doing laundry, or simply not reacting when someone tries to hurt you (if you deem their suffering to have caused the action, and your silence to be supportive). It seems to me that there is a certain ego in thinking that we are providing a service or ‘teaching’ people.

Here’s where the Yoga Journal went wrong; teaching yoga is sadhana. For those who feel a strong mission to teach yoga, it becomes part of our spiritual practice or sadhana. The teaching comes from a more authentic place of practice. A yoga class is not an ‘event’ but a moment in time where energy, intention and discipline are shared. So it may be more accurate to refer to yourself as a ‘yogi’ than a ‘yoga teacher’. I recently encountered a yoga teacher who refuses to call himself a teacher; he is just a ‘yogi’. There is something right in this.

I know that I’ve said before, that the best teachers really have nothing to teach or to ‘show’. For those who view teaching as sadhana, issues like how much to charge are really challenging. How can you attach a value to that which is part of daily life? Am I teaching well or not well? Who knows, I am only practicing.

A couple of words on the subject:

Many people practice for one or two months and call themselves great yogis. But there is no sadhana in them. The students deserve to know who has the real sadhana, and can actually pass on something real.

˜Sharath Rangaswamy (grandson of Pattabhi Jois)

It is interesting to note how the elderly Mahatmas living in the Himalayan valleys look at the missionary zeal of the young Mahatmas. Once…I reported…that my work of spreading the contents of our scriptures is being slowly recognized and appreciated by the younger generation, the ancient brows were raised…Swamiji said “Chinmaya, you had better stay here now and no need to go out in the world”, “if you think that you are spreading these spiritual ideas of Vedanta among the people, by the time you have, you will be a lost soul, because you will have developed a terrible ego”. “Devotees might come and ask us to clear their doubts. You may give your discourses in the cities; there is no-one who is doing it now as efficiently as you are. But one thing we should do – never talk to the audience, talk to your own mind and make it a louder reflection in yourself to yourself. Thereby you will not only stop the growth of the ego but also will be talking to the mind and heart of your audience. May your missionary lectures and inspired teachings be a homely talk and fruitful discussion between your own higher intellect and lower mind. If those who are around you benefit by your own self-reflection it shall be the glory of the Lord and not your personal efficiency”.

˜Swami Chinmayananda (disciple of Swami Sivananda and head of Chinmaya Mission)

All set for world domination.
All set for world domination...safe to say this is not sadhana.

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