On Becoming a Teacher and Forever Student by Dawn Blevins
I didn’t go to Mysore because I wanted Sharath to authorize me. I didn’t want to be a yoga teacher. I wanted to be a student and I wanted to have a teacher. I had taught a variety of subjects previously – writing, math, and music. I simply wanted to study, to immerse myself in learning something I knew little about.
After I attended my first ever yoga class, one of my dearest friends proclaimed, “You’re going to become a yoga teacher!” She was a longtime friend who knew me very well, but I told her that was never going to happen.
“That is ridiculous; I’ve only been to one class. I just want to be a student,” I said.
As I took more classes, other friends began saying the same thing. I was convinced they were also wrong. I loved being a student. I spent as many years as possible in college and grad school. I imagined that professional student would be my ideal career. After my final graduation ceremony, my ever supportive husband said, “I’m glad you can’t go any further. It’s time to stop spending money on school.” That sounded reasonable.
Then I discovered yoga and found a new way to be a student. I worked hard at it for reasons I didn’t understand. I started practicing seven days a week until I realized I was only supposed to practice six and then rest for a day. I began studying yoga philosophy and reading every book I could find. I was overwhelmed and thrilled by how much there was to learn.
During my first trip to Mysore, I was excited to be a student and feel like a complete beginner in front of Sharath. I hadn’t felt like a beginner at anything in so long. There were no expectations. No striving. No goals. Only practicing. It was such a relief. I was filled with peace.
But one day as I waited for my shala spot, a voice in my head said, “You’re going to be an authorized teacher.” It terrified me. I didn’t want to try to achieve anything in yoga. I wanted a different way of being in the world for once. And honestly, I didn’t want to work hard enough to become authorized. I felt like I had already done enough hard work in life. I never forgot that voice, but I stuffed it as far back into a hidden corner in my brain as possible in an attempt to silence it. I knew that it could be divine guidance or it could be ego. I decided to err on the side of caution and assume it was ego. I wanted to avoid practicing yoga and traveling to Mysore for the wrong reasons. The way I had opened myself to yoga felt so innocent and so pure. I didn’t want to tarnish it.
When I got home, I dedicated myself even more completely to the Ashtanga practice. Being in Mysore illustrated that I had only barely scratched the surface of what I needed to learn about yoga, even just to be a student. I still refused to entertain the idea that I would ever teach.
I made a second trip to Mysore and then began to work even harder when I returned home afterwards. I started assisting Taylor and quickly learned that I knew even less than I thought about yoga. I decided I would never be experienced enough to teach on my own. I studied even harder than ever though.
I continued that way, and when there was talk of my potential authorization before I traveled to Mysore for the third time, I got angry and insisted that it stop. It felt like pressure–the kind of pressure I had always put on myself. I needed yoga to be different. I still didn’t think I should teach. I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t worked hard enough yet. I went to Mysore actively not wanting authorization, but fearing that people would be disappointed in me if I didn’t return home with it. I detest disappointing people. I was torn.
I sought wisdom in Mysore everywhere I thought might contain it. A few weeks in, I was still confused. Before I slept one night, I prayed that I would meet a wise person to whom I could speak about my dilemma. After practice the very next morning, I crossed paths with a seasoned Ashtanga teacher who I didn’t know well, but who I had always respected and felt a connection with. She invited me to lunch. I told her all of my doubts about teaching and encouraged her to tell me not to do it. That it was too soon. Instead, she said that my doubts confirmed that I should be teaching. It wasn’t what I expected to hear. I trusted her opinion, but I still had doubts.
Another veteran teacher, someone I greatly admired, moved into the house where I was staying during my second month in Mysore. More wisdom. I decided to ask for her advice. Surely she will tell me that it’s too soon, that I haven’t worked long and hard enough. But, she also told me that I was supposed to teach. Clearly these two remarkable women with deeply rooted practices and longtime connections to Guruji and Sharath could not both be wrong. All of my arguments against teaching fell apart before my eyes.
Although I respected the words of the wise women, I am never one to be fully convinced by someone else. It always has to come from within me. I wasn’t there yet.
Then, one day at the beginning of my third month in Mysore, when I stood up from my final backbend, I felt more solid than I had ever felt in my life. It wasn’t simply about the poses. I felt my entire self solidify. I believed I had something to share with other yoga students. I knew for the first time that if Sharath authorized me, I would be ready and I would teach.
When it happened, it felt right. Of course I will never be able to comprehend even a fraction of the entire body of yogic knowledge. But I am certain about one thing–we are supposed to teach from our own experience and hard work. That is the only way. The great thing about Ashtanga is that we are all expected to continue our studies and remain students forever. Even though I am teaching now, I am really just a student hoping to share some of what I have learned. And I am learning as much from other students as I learn from my own practice each day. The reality is, this is my dream career come true. I am a professional student.