Jacinta McBurney

International Yoga Teacher based in Europe & UK

What Does It Take To Be A Yoga Teacher?

ant-o-rama at flickr

picture credit: ant-o-rama at flickr

This is a question I get asked in many forms. My quick answer is:

“…a passion and drive for what you teach, a disciplined practice to inform your teaching, and the never-ending quest to reflect and improve upon your craft.”

When applying for teaching positions in Universities in the USA, you are required to submit a “Statement of Teaching Philosophy”. I spent time developing such a statement. It was for a role as an Educator in New York City, but I could easily have replicated the statement for the role of Yoga Teacher.

I simply asked myself what are my 3 key beliefs that both inform and drive my teaching?

Here is my answer:

  • Belief that the student, as an individual, must be central to teaching and learning
  • Belief that learning is both situated and collaborative
  • Belief that the practice of teaching can both serve and enable true learning

These 3 key areas were a part of our discussions in the Teaching Methodology component for the Knoff Teacher Training recently in Cairns.

Let me summarize.

Belief that the student, as an individual, must be central:

The concept of student – centred learning is not new. In the education sector there is widespread acceptance that the individual is key to the way in which we effectively engage students in learning. Students bring with them experience, knowledge, ideas and concepts that are fully or partially formed. We acknowledge this prior learning as a starting point, in order to move to a shared understanding and the gaining of new knowledge. All teaching and learning, therefore, revolves around the central position of the student. Challenging in practice when we have large student numbers in classes. The traditional teaching of yoga, one-to-one, guru to student, this reflects the true concept of student – centred learning. Our challenge then, is to enable student – centred learning in groups. Which leads to my next point!

Belief that learning is both situated and collaborative:

There was a great article that we studied in the Masters of Education at Melbourne University. The title was “How Education Backed the Wrong Horse”. A title that seemed to stay with me! The article discussed how the field of education backed the wrong horse, being psychology. Psychology’s Law of Learning came from research in unnatural environments with unrealistic tasks. Learning was narrowly viewed as merely memory based with a focus on controlled research in isolated laboratory tests. Learners were like lab – rats.

The counter position, proposed that learning should be collaborative and the “right horse” would have been Anthropology. We are interconnected beings and we are part of communities with an innate longing to belong. Therefore our learning is most effective, and even seamlessly unconscious, when “situated” within a cultural/social context. Where we come together, collaborate; to learn and even assist one another, we enable true learning.

Belief that the practice of teaching can both serve and enable true learning

Teaching is a craft. When we find a great teacher, we instinctively know. But as teachers, we can only set up conditions that aim to facilitate learning. We build a learning environment. This comes from our own knowledge and understanding. It comes from our own practice, not only our practice of yoga, but our practice of teaching. And then we provide opportunities for students to learn, to understand and to “come to know”, a phrase coined by Peter Senge. How do we “come to know”? Senge believes when we really know and understand, we are able to apply our deep understanding in unrelated environments. In yoga terms, perhaps we take our learning and knowledge off the mat and into the world. Or as teachers we apply knowledge from our teaching in non-class environments.

There are no simple formulas or quick fix answers to the age-old question of quality in teaching and learning.

In the past, when I have taught in higher education, I would always challenge the students to question and grapple with “what is their ideal scenario for learning and understanding”.

I would also challenge the teaching staff to question and grapple with their values and ideology around the practice of teaching and learning. It is not something we discuss as overtly in yoga teaching, but rather, it surfaces in themes around teaching methodology and teaching practice.

So, now I challenge you to consider what would be your “Statement of Teaching Philosophy”?

Written by Jacinta McBurney, Knoff Master Level Yoga Teacher.

*This article appeared in the Knoff Yoga Newsletter (http://www.knoffyoga.com)

4 comments on “What Does It Take To Be A Yoga Teacher?

  1. Sherlyn
    March 7

    Hi Jacinta! I’m currently undertaking a yoga teacher training course myself. I am mainly doing it to enrich my own practice. Although I’m not sure if I will teach yoga professionally, this article has certainly encouraged me to think about what I like in my own teachers.

    I sometimes wonder if the traditional guru model invites the misconception that the teacher is somehow omniscient. Those who seek the path of enlightenment may inadvertently place their teacher on a pedestal, believing them to be spiritually superior. By admitting that we are all still on a learning curve, this dichotomy of superior / inferior quickly disintegrates.

    Do you agree that we should take charge of our own spiritual learning? I have sometimes heard in Ashtanga that ultimately, your practice is your teacher.

    • Jacinta McBurney
      March 23

      I always encourage students to take charge of their own practice. It is their life after all. As teachers we can know only so much about what is happening for a student. We can be a catalyst for them to challenge deeply held beliefs and misconceptions or assist in moving through difficulties and habitual ways of being. But in the end, it is up to the individual.

  2. Sherlyn
    March 7

    I hope you don’t mind that I have referenced this article on my own blog: https://dreamsofmarigold.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/3-tips-for-finding-the-right-yoga-teacher/

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