Being a Responsible Yoga Teacher

Swami Vedantananda, Portugal

Society today faces many illnesses: physical illnesses, emotional distress, mental problems, fears, and so on. People have fears that didn’t exist before, such as terrorism, crime, fear of losing jobs. Therefore they are turning to yoga to findanswers to their problems, and they know that they need more than asana and pranayama. I have a quote from Sri Swamiji:

Through asanas and pranayama, you develop and maintain a sound and healthy body. Through selfless service you exhaust your vasanas and karma. Through devotion and self-surrender, you stabilize your emotions. Through mental control, you increase your mental capacity. Through self-analysis and self-enquiry, you sharpen your discriminative faculty. Through meditation, you expand your consciousness. Thus, all the layers of your personality are properly developed and you become an integrated personality. This is the task of yoga.

Through regular practice of Satyananda Yoga techniques, people are finding ways to live more harmoniously and healthily, and to be more tranquil. It is with the aim of helping people to live like this that we teach yoga. By staying true to the purity and the integrity of the tradition, we can help people and also help realize our gurus’ vision to take yoga out into society.

Now we come to the responsibility of taking care of our students’ mental, emotional and physical health. A responsible yoga teacher knows his or her own limitations and capacity, and never teaches beyond his or her experience or competency.

At the same time you should know the limitations and capacity of your students, and not go beyond that. Our system is designed to progress in a slow and systematic way so that the development takes place in a balanced way.

The responsibility applies also at the mental and emotional levels, and this is particularly relevant when you are teaching pranayama, yoga nidra and meditation. Some people come to yoga just for the physical side of things, they just want to be a little bit more flexible, relaxed and calm. They won’t realize that by letting go of tensions on the physical level, one is also going to be letting go of emotional and mental tensions. They may not be ready to handle that, but you as the teacher must be ready and able to handle that. It is your responsibility to pick up the pieces, for the practices will take people to places that they may not have been to before. Therefore, it is a duty to look after them.

If students have problems and want to speak to you, you need to be available for a relaxed and friendly question and answer session. If you find that your students have problems that are beyond your experience, then you need to know more experienced yoga teachers or therapists whom you can pass them on to. You may need to develop some listening and counselling skills. But remember, you are a yoga teacher, not a therapist, so know your limitations when you are trying to help people in that way.

—21 October 2019, Munger Yoga Symposium