The article below was originally published on The Huff Post.
Krishnamacharya has three qualifications for a yoga teacher.
As the source of much of modern day yoga, and the teacher of luminaries like B. K. S. Iyengar and Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, this guy clearly knew what it took to possess the wealth of wisdom that yoga embodies. Of course, there is one primary qualification of being a yoga teacher—enlightenment—but in lieu of that ultimate spiritual experience, Krishnamacharya offered three other qualifications for those who assume the post of teacher.
The first, is to have a connection to a lineage.
This is an indication of where the student has been, who has been the custodian of their learning, and responsible for their knowledge. The most important relationship in yoga is the relationship between teacher and student.
We’ve all heard of the term guru, and while it’s gotten misconstrued and possibly watered down into a layman’s term lately, the original meaning of guru was simple—one who helped to remove darkness in order to reveal the light.
Yogis are seekers of some higher truth, and the greatest obstacles to realizing this is our own ignorance (avidya) and ego (asmita). A guru is someone who very directly and personally helps us to realize our own blockages and assumptions through teaching and challenging us to overcome them. This is a difficult and sometimes inglorious process.
A teacher is one who is unafraid to point out our pitfalls and arrogance when we think we’ve learned it all or have all the answers. Contrary to western thought, yoga values cohesion and deference to our seniors, as well as the realization that we don’t have to go it alone or reinvent the wheel.
If our teachers were masters, we can copy what they did with some degree of success. This takes the pressure off “reinventing the wheel,” and lets us practice our teaching in a way that’s already been successful.
A yoga teacher can only lead us as far as they have gone themselves, so with that in mind, it is wise for us to choose the teachers who have gained some degree of happiness and freedom within themselves, because then they can show us how to get there.
The second qualification for yoga teachers is to keep a daily practice.
Once the guru has shown the way, it is critical that we actually put that method into practice to test it’s validity. In the yoga tradition, it is said there are three ways to come to know something: through teaching, through inference and through personal experience. The most valued way to know something in yoga is through personal experience. The most amazing teacher may be able to give us the key to happiness, but until we put that key in the lock and turn it, we won’t know it for ourselves.
As teachers, our daily practice is how we let the yoga we’ve learned and love actually do it’s job. It needs time to do its work on us. And time is key. In his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell explains the 10 year or 10,000 hour rule of success. Gladwell asserts that mastery in any field requires an enormous commitment—10 years, or 10,000 hours.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika also suggests that mastery of asana practice requires 12 years of a daily practice. The yoga sutra states that mastery occurs with steady practice over a long period of time. It just takes time for the yoga to do its job, to rewrite our internal script and patterning so the default habits, reactions, and patterns reflect that of a yogi—one who is completely at ease.
In order to put in our 10,000 hours, we must diligently work on our own practice and allow the yoga to live within us. When it does, then the teacher can teach not just what someone told him or her, but can teach what he or she truly knows.
Finally, the last qualification of a teacher is that we truly like people.
We have to work with them, right? So, it would make sense that we work and play well with others. Most important in liking others is the ability to create a compassionate and empathic connection.
At this final stage, there is little room for ego, as the teacher’s goal is to look upon students as already whole and complete, as opposed to someone who needs “fixing.” It’s a unique perspective, and as a teacher sees what a student is capable of, the student sees the opportunity to rise to that occasion.
As Dale Carnegie would say:
“When dealing with people, remember, you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but rather creatures of emotion.”
If we can inspire and encourage students to move (safely) beyond their limitations, we will have done what our teachers once did for us, and in this way, we render the magic Krishnamacharya’s wisdom. When we have known great teachers and heeded their instructions, we are able to impart that wisdom to others.