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The Authentic Teacher
by Tracey L. Ulshafer



So the quote goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” Most of us have heard this quote in reference to the teachings of yoga and have found this to be quite true. I have found that my own teachers have often come to me in the most unexpected of ways - through my pets, my step-children and the guy in front of me on the turnpike. But what is a teacher? And where and how do we come to find one?

A 2005 survey estimates over 70,000 yoga teachers now out there teaching this ancient practice. Look in your local gym, curves, YMCA, dance studio, senior center, or chiropractic office and you will find yoga classes or instructors available for group or private sessions. Google “yoga centers” in your home town and a wide selection will display on your screen. The market for yoga teachers has increased tremendously and with so many people out there teaching yoga, how does a student find a good teacher?

The Yoga Alliance has done a good job of maintaining standards for one to be a yoga teacher. Each yoga school must qualify their teachers and programs to be registered to certify yoga teachers. Check out their website and again you will find an overwhelming number of yoga studios now offering yoga trainings. The basic program is a 200 hour certification, which gives teachers what I like to call “the nuts and bolts” of the practice. You learn the basic asanas (and hopefully the modifications and variations to safely teach them), breathing practices, western anatomy, yoga philosophy, and depending on the school other methods of teaching. When a teacher finishes a 200 hour program, they are ready to go out and spread the word of yoga to the community. They are all pretty much good teachers. There is a second tier of teaching that one can take, gaining 500 hours of training and over 100 hours of actual teaching. These teachers you will find listed under 500 hour certifications. With that much training and practice under their belt, surely a 500 hour teacher will be a great teacher, right?

Over the years I have taken many yoga classes with teachers of different levels. I have conducted teacher trainings of both 200 and 500 hours for many years. And running two yoga studios, I have a lot of experience with all types of teachers. What I have found is that there are those who lead yoga classes, those who showcase their own talents and then those who teach. Have you been to a class that felt like it had a great sequence, but never actually learned anything? How about the classes where the teacher never leaves his/her yoga mat and ignores the needs of the individual students while “performing” the whole time for the class? There are a lot of these out there and I would dare to say that these are not teachers. So that makes one a yoga teacher?

Well, first of all, when they teach you something! Were you corrected in your alignment somehow? Was there a quote or theme to the class that really spoke to you? Did the teacher inspire you to reach new edges in your practice? Did she provide you the space to honor yourself and pull back? Basically, was the teacher there for you and did you feel safe and nurtured and inspired throughout the class?

What I try to instill in all the students that come through my yoga teacher training program is to teach from the heart - not the ego. It is a basic difference of fourth vs. third chakra. When we teach from our heart center, we teach what the students need. We teach from the knowledge of all the ancient yogis and gurus that have taught before us and we provide sacred space for our students to let go and open up. When we teach from our solar plexus, we are driven by our own needs to show off what we know or can achieve. It may look pretty, but it feels empty. You know the difference when you are in each of these classes. 

In my advanced teacher training program I spend a lot of time with each teacher, breaking down these aspects. Together we work in helping him or her find their own teaching voice and style. It is also said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Many new teachers start out paraphrasing their teacher. While this is nice, it still may not resonate. As with teaching from the heart center vs. solar plexus, there is a different energy when one simply follows their teacher vs. following their inner guru. This is what I like to call the authentic teacher.

When one can teach from the heart center and create a class that allows him or her to speak from their own truth, and thus the “one” truth, then the teacher has truly become an authentic yoga teacher. This is the yoga class that I will go to again and again. I won’t much care if we forget to do one side in a sequence because in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t much matter. But if I feel as though I just went through someone else’s personal practice, I’m sure to never return.

My advice to those looking for a good yoga teacher is to keep searching. Be willing to travel a little further for a great teacher. When you walk into a studio or a classroom, sometimes you just know that it is the place because of the energy. Other times you may not realize until you take the class that you have finally found your teacher. If you have stopped learning from your yoga teacher, maybe its time to take a road trip and see what else is out there...and sometimes, we even learn that our teacher is right back at our home studio where we started.



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About the Author

As a teenager, Tracey Ulshafer was in a severe car accident that fractured her spine. Years in the corporate world leading a stressful life worked her body into knots, chronic sinus infections and severe back pain daily. An introduction to yoga saved her life and opened her eyes to the value of holistic practices.

After several years of studies and training, Tracey took a leap of faith and left the corporate world behind to follow a path in the ancient healing arts. Tracey completed a 500 hour Hatha Yoga teacher training, graduated from a holistic massage therapy school, and completed her Reiki practitioner certification. Tracey then furthered her yoga studies with master teachers Baron Baptiste, Shiva Rea and Sean Corn, and continues to research the practice of yoga by taking workshops and lectures every year.

Learn more about Tracey at OneYogaCenter.net/tracey.php.




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