I recently had the opportunity to spend time with Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher Carole Baillargeon who is visiting us as a guest teacher at Shri. A native Quebecer, Carole lives in Darwin, Australia where she is the director of Darwin Yoga Space. A student of Iyengar Yoga since 1986 and long-time student of the Iyengar family in Pune, India, Carole shared with me some of her thoughts on practice, teaching and the deeper dimensions of yoga.
BARRIE: So many options for practice exist now that did not exist before such as downloaded classes, web-streamed classes on demand and podcasts in addition to live classes. What would you tell yoga teachers who find it difficult to maintain enthusiasm for and commitment to a regular personal practice?
CAROLE: Self-practice is at the very core of the yoga tradition. Practising yoga means to unfold our mat and connect with our selves there on a daily basis. We can’t do that very well by listening to a recording or watching a teacher on line.
But indeed, it is challenging for teachers to remain enthusiastic over a long period of time so here are a few tips to maintain the inspiration:
- Attend one class a week with a more experienced teacher in a similar style of yoga that you do. Try to attend the same class every week if you can to develop a rapport with the teacher and gage your progress.
- Get a Yoga Diary. That is how I started to practice and what I suggest my trainees and even my keen students to do. Take notes after your yoga class of what worked for you, new things you learned or things you did not quite get and practice those things on your own the next day. Also, use your diary to record interesting or inspiring things you read about yoga or bits of conversations you’ve had about yoga.
- Go back and look at some of the material that was given to you when you were learning to teach and follow some of the set sequences and work with this for a while.
BARRIE: Looking back on yourself as a new teacher, what advice would you have given yourself, from where you stand now?
CAROLE: I think it is important for a new teacher to see herself or himself first as a student of yoga. I would encourage them to be mindful not to develop their teaching too fast or too much at the expense of their practice. A good teacher teaches from the knowledge and experience gained from their practice.
I would avoid getting in-put from too many different teachers. It is better to stick to just a few teachers, practice what you learn from them and integrate that knowledge before you move on to learning something new.
Lastly, teaching yoga is very demanding physically so it is important that they take time to rest and restore on a weekly basis and to make it a priority to attend something like a yoga retreat once a year to replenish themselves.
BARRIE: What do you feel are the three most important qualities for a yoga teacher to have, and what can you say about how would you develop each of these?
CAROLE: Patience and compassion are two of the qualities that are important for yoga teachers. But these qualities need to be practiced toward themselves first and their yoga practice will help them develop that.
Another quality that is important to develop is the ability to be comfortable with the unknown, whether it be not knowing how to deal with a student’s knee problem or not understanding a yoga philosophy concept.
It helps a lot to have an enquiring mind that likes to search and learn along the way, as opposed to just wanting to get cookie cutter and prescriptive answers.
BARRIE: Much of the current yoga culture seems to be centered around treating people who do yoga more like consumers rather than students. Do you feel it is important to be a student of yoga, rather then just a consumer? What is the distinction for you? and if you do, why?
CAROLE: Like it is with anything, some people will consume in quantity without discrimination and others will be attracted to quality and investing themselves more deeply into what they do. But Yoga has so much to offer on so many levels that even an indiscriminate consumer of yoga is likely to find his life enhanced with better health and wellbeing.
However as with most things, the true gems of yoga are hidden and found via a slow process of chipping away at it consistently over a long period of time. Many students start as consumers of yoga (as very few have any inklings of the deeper dimensions of yoga) but slowly they find it becomes more meaningful.
It is the role of the teacher to convey those deeper dimensions in a way that is understandable and relevant to the student. How to convey in a light hearted manner that yoga has the potential to enlighten us about the nature of the mind, the nature of reality itself, about life and death? That is the role and challenge of the teacher.
BARRIE Speak about your perspective of asana as sadhana. What is your experience of this personally and as a teacher?
CAROLE: Sadhana means a spiritual path. Not only asanas where we connect the mind with the body but also ethics, pranayama, withdrawal of the senses, mindfulness, chanting, reading about yoga: all of it is part of the path called sadhana. They are all tools to visit the inner being, to have a look at what is there outside of my life circumstances. They train my mind to be present, to engage and transform matter (my body and beyond).
Yoga practice as sadhana is a companion, a guiding light, a barometer.
It’s a way to see the world that makes sense to me, a means that unveils the source of creative power and puts me in touch with it.