Shopping for yoga teachers

I’ll start by saying if you are looking for and happen to find a good yoga teacher stick to them, like you’d look for a really good quality piece of clothing that’s going to stand the test of time and that’s made of the stuff that lasts and it’s structure has the hallmarks of a refined and experienced tailor. If you decide to invest in one piece it will show up every season as a staple, instead of the mass produced yearly fashion label that you need to replace, often.

The ‘retail’ factor of yoga has become completely out of control. There’s a lot of constant chatter and seeking to find the next best teacher or event. It may be illuminating and inspiring but what happens when we finally become less starry eyed?

A teacher, worth their salt, is not so much going to teach you every fancy asana but will keep to the track of simplicity and strength. Something that you can sustain for a lifetime and also develop as a human as your practice evolves and changes.

Simon Borg Olivier once said to me that it was the quality of the savasana not the quantity (timing) that was key. And that does take some time to learn. Peter Thomson’s answer to my question at age 25, can you still dance and do yoga? Was simply, ‘yoga is a great tool for life’.

I don’t mind a bit of healthy name dropping, but only for good purpose. I learnt the invocation to Patanjali precisely whilst sitting next to Swati Chanchani at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, though she’ll probably never know that.

My own teacher & mentor of over 35 years, Caroline Coggins, has a phrase that she applies in all circumstances and that is ‘ keep it simple’.

The truth is, as one design colleague put it to me the other day, to create something simple often takes a lot of work, weeding out.

This could not be more true.

I have witnessed a lot of teacher shopping in my time as a yoga teacher and practitioner. And I’m not saying that experiencing other teachings are not valuable. But you’re lucky if the teacher you already have can keep peeling away the layers and who has already done the body of work with you so you can arrive at this space of relative simplicity. What then is the value of adding more & more instructions from another source that hasn’t had decades of insights and input? It’s a big question.

I mean we do get bored. It’s part of the process. And the mind loves the entertainment so much. A new set of eyes on you can really boost your endorphins and adrenaline to seemingly new heights and possibilities. After which you return to your routine, the stuff you own and acknowledge as the internal guide when you get back on your daily mat. Stephanie Quirk once said to me when discussing teacher acknowledgment and whether we should or not, her quiet words were ‘ never underestimate the value of our first teachers.’

I’ve had the privilege of having the one teacher for my whole yoga life. I will say this comes with many appreciations that are impossible to fully articulate. I’m also lucky that the Iyengar community has afforded me many relations, friendships and conversations with fellow path seekers and a wide variety of wisdoms over the years.

I spoke to Karen Wilde the other day about organising a class with Father Joe Pereira at our yoga school where I do the weekly admin and design job as well as teaching classes. She is a tireless devotee, and for a long time sat on the Iyengar assessment committee. I got her off her mat with my call and she talked to me as delighted about the interruption as she was with Father Joe’s possible visit. How we learn from example.

A few years ago I must admit I begrudgingly attended the IYAA convention in Wollongong, south of Sydney. I didn’t need to be thrown into big rooms with hundreds of others to experience other teachers. And I never got to go to my own teacher’s class, which I still think was a bit weird. In any case, impressions were made. I had at least 4 senior teachers, who were assisting the class I was in, try and adjust my headstand. I’d like to say this was a privilege but in actual fact it was plain annoying and ultimately for their experimentation only.

What value can we reap from going to other teachers who don’t have any relationship with us? Yes to get tips, fresh eyes. Different words and other ways of practice. But ultimately does this have any real impact? Of course we learn something else. And we DO value that immensely. But the self teacher in our selves, needs to have a mentor who keeps us on track, who understands us in the unspoken and private realm of yoga. Who we have a certain transparency with, yet feel safe and cared for without being coddled or reprimanded because we don’t know the next thing. We need to take on that responsibility to a large extent and trust it’s process.

I’m almost 60, and found my teacher when I was 22, so it’s been a long relationship. The same goes for many others I would say, although it’s becoming less common. I’ve been tested that’s for sure.

I’ve seen others who have gone through a kind of initiation and then challenge with their teachers, only to just walk away. It’s a bit heartbreaking to watch because so much has been invested by both parties.

Teacher shopping, well it is what it is. As a teacher myself, now for almost 20 years, I relate to the enormous effort one puts into longtime students. Watching them evolve, steering them through the twists and turns in life, using yoga as the navigation tool. Yes we can offer a good, interesting and dynamically impressive class but what truly underscores the whole learning / teaching process is what we can keep developing with our students, and still remain relevant and watchful.

I think Iyengar yoga, in its simplicity is a teacher / student exchange. Keep learning from each other. Keep working together and keep faith in each other even if that’s your biggest challenge on the mat.

That’s not to say that other teachers teaching is of no value. Quite the contrary. Their words and commands can leave lasting impressions, like Glen Ceresoli’s ‘ if you think you can’t, go in more!’ or Geeta Iyengar’s words whilst pointing to my 28 year old self’s meltdown in Pune, ‘CRY LATER!’.

Suzi Chin Silicz is an Iyengar Yoga teacher at The Yoga Centre East Redfern – an Iyengar Institute and a freelance graphic designer in Sydney, Australia.

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