qualified to learn

(accepting ourselves & our students in the classroom of the world)

photo courtesy Yasodhara Ashram

Before we go into the subject of how to teach, we first have to ask why anyone would want to teach. What is the attraction? What is the motivation? The reasons can be varied – from imagining a certain glamour in the position, to a desire to tell others what to do, to a sincere desire to share and help. The person most qualified to teach is often the one who is least eager.

I often feel that when we express a desire to teach, we are ignorant of the enormous responsibility involved. Think about the problems we face as adults that can be traced back to those who taught us as children – our mothers, fathers and school teachers. Teaching a spiritual practice is not so different. The ultimate aim of the teacher must be to help people develop a higher level of awareness.

The teacher must never stop learning, realizing that students can only be taken as far as the teacher has developed himself or herself. When the process of learning stops, “teaching” is only repetition. As teachers we must continue not only to study and learn, but to apply what is learned to daily life. We also have to realize that the material we teach undergoes many changes. We often think we know Truth when we do not. We must be honest and acknowl­edge that we approach Truth gradually, and that the same material can be understood on many levels, depending on the development of teacher and student. A teacher must be able to see the many levels of understanding. He or she must also recognize that each student offers valuable learning experience. Those who can learn from their students have a sense of humility, which is another essential quality in a teacher.

Usually we learn by trial and error, so we must also learn to ac­cept ourselves, including our errors. We must see ourselves as we are, not just how we want to be. If we accept only our successes, we create a false image even in our own mind. Once we can see ourselves as we are, we can de­cide what ideals we want to bring into our daily lives. These ideals – for example kindness, understanding, patience, a cheerful attitude –  have to be firmly planted in the mind. Having established them in our mind, we have to give sufficient time and careful thought to how we will put them into practice.

By thoroughly examining ourselves, we can also deepen our compassion and understanding of others. That understanding will come across and create openness between teacher and student. As teachers we have to be careful not to judge others. What if Jesus had decided that no one was worthy enough to carry his divine message? Some of his disciples were rough and unreli­able; others lacked self-confidence. We are all rather imperfect human beings. Every teacher can accept frailties in students if they also have a sense of responsibility, the right motivation and strength of commitment. When you allow people into your class, you must accept each one, exactly as they are. You may point out that you do not agree with certain actions, but you cannot condemn the individual. Being judgemental creates more damage than good. Remember that you, too, want to be accepted.

As a teacher, you also cannot be expected to be perfect. Perfection, in any case, is just a con­cept of the individual. Some people, however, make more effort than others to deal with their shortcomings. Some put in so much effort that their success is truly recognizable to those around them. A teacher can at least be expected to set an example to some degree. When I say to some degree, I mean that when the student sees your own struggle and goodwill, you create a good foundation for a meaningful relationship. It is important not to keep your failures hidden away like dark secrets, but rather to show your own human nature. You can give encouragement through your frankness and openness, by sharing how and what you do with your shortcomings, yet without making a display of it. To pretend means that you cannot be yourself, and therefore you cannot teach your students to become themselves.

Hatha Yoga should never be reduced to a form of gymnastics. A yoga teacher should know that the many types of yoga – Hatha, Bhakti, Jnana, Karma, Kundalini, Raja – are interlinked and interrelated. The approach and the techniques may differ, but the goal is always the same – the attainment of Cosmic Consciousness.

A pioneer in bringing yoga to the West, Swami Sivananda Radha is the author of 10 classic books on yoga, including Kundalini Yoga for the West and Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language. Her teachings focus on developing awareness and quality in life.

  read more of swami radha's past columns

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