Teaching the Spiritual Essence of Yoga with Integrity

The heart of yoga is spirituality, best defined as the process of self-awareness, self-discovery, and self-realization. This is what most of our students are seeking, even if they do not consciously realize or express it, and supporting another being on the journey of self-discovery is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow. But how can we teach spirit, depth, and meaning in an authentic and satisfying way?

By Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati

It is often only when we teach yoga that we begin to learn what yoga truly is. This is because it is in the context of teaching that we are forced to examine our understanding of yoga critically, and to witness to what extent we embody and communicate this understanding.

Yoga can support the whole being if the student is open to the process. How open a student is often depends not only on how we teach technique, but on how we present our understanding. How we demonstrate essence and spirit in our teaching depends on how much we are actually living yoga, how heart-connected we are, and how much depth and wisdom we have developed.

There are many challenges facing us as teachers. How do we infuse a yoga class with depth without using excessive theory, jargon, and Sanskrit terms, which are often meaningless to our students? How can we teach with integrity, without feeling like an impostor, during personally challenging periods of our lives? In meeting these challenges, we must continuously contemplate what yoga and spirituality are for us, and how we gain depth in our own lives. Only then can we teach the rewards of a deeper practice.

What is Spirituality?
In essence, spirituality deals with our relationship with that which is beyond us as individuals. This is a relationship with something greater than we arewith a creator, or a source of being that we have come from before our —birth, and where we will go to after our death. This is a very personal inner journey.

From the yogic perspective, we experience the spiritual by cultivating our awareness and taking this awareness deep into the subtle dimensions of our being. Awareness allows us to experience the subtler aspects of life and marks a step on our inner journey toward self-realization. Once we have forged a conscious relationship with that which is beyond the “little” us, then we can bring that connection and understanding into our everyday lives. Only then can we truly permeate our lives and teachings with depth and meaning.

As teachers, we may be asked to give some form of spiritual guidance to our students to support their journey. The aim of yoga teachers should always be to empower our students to find their own way. One of the tools we give them to do this is awareness. Therefore, always direct your students to become more aware and more confident in their own feelings and intuitions.

Gaining Spirit in Ourselves
The most important first step for teachers is to develop their own spirituality. Spiritual knowledge comes only from a great deal of study and personal self-development. It takes time to develop true wisdom and a grounded, authentic spirituality. This cannot be achieved from books, and if we attempt to teach what we do not know, our students will quickly perceive this. If our spirituality is grounded in authentic realization, then we develop a heart-connected relationship with all of life and, therefore, with our students. Then even simple practices become potent.