Jivana Heyman 00:00:01
Hi, I'm Jivana Heyman, and my pronouns are he and him. Thank you for joining me for The Teachers Guide To Accessible Yoga Podcast. This is a series of conversations that I had with an incredible group of Yoga teachers, as I was researching my new book, A Teacher's Guide To Accessible Yoga. And I wanted to share these conversations with you in their fullness. Rather than just pulling quotes for the book, I wanted you to get a chance to hear everything these teachers had to say. So I hope you enjoy these conversations. Thanks for being here.
Jivana Heyman 00:00:37
Hi, everyone. I'm so excited to be here today with my friend and colleague, Anjali Rao. Hi, Anjali.
Anjali Rao 00:00:43
Hi, Jivana. So good to be here.
Jivana Heyman 00:00:44
Thank you. Thanks so much for that. And thanks for writing the foreword to my book. And that's what I want to talk with you about today a little bit, but maybe first, you could just introduce yourself.
Anjali Rao 00:00:54
Absolutely. First of all, it was an honour to be invited to write the foreword for your book. You know, how much I love you and the work that you do in world. I am Anjali Rao, my pronouns are she her. And I'm a Yoga practitioner, first and foremost, Yoga educator, I share the teachings of Yoga in a multidisciplinary way, bringing in context with history, the politics, and power dynamics that exists historically and in modern times. And I right now, serve on the board of directors of Accessible Yoga. So, that's the work that I do.
Jivana Heyman 00:01:38
Well, you're the president of our board. And you also are my close friend. And we work together a lot, we're currently really leading training together. And I learn from you all the time. So thank you Anjali.
Anjali Rao 00:01:51
I love being in shared space with you.
Jivana Heyman 00:01:54
It means a lot to me. And I again, I really appreciate you writing the foreword to the book, I was hoping to find someone who could really share about what it means to be a Yoga teacher. And it's a very precious thing that I think these days maybe has lost some of its meaning, you know, and I really appreciate what you've shared in the foreword.
Anjali Rao 00:02:18
Yeah, I love the topic. And this is such a valuable thing that we do as Yoga teachers in the world, which is to really touch people's lives, and be with people in a very vulnerable, real way, as Yoga teachers. And I think that this work is basically changing and shifting a person's life, one class, one workshop, one programme at a time. And the way in which we are now presenting Yoga teachers, and we are actually producing Yoga teachers, in this mass produced way is a very problematic thing. Because typically, and traditionally, of course, one would actually study for decades, just study without actually stepping in as a teacher. And really excavate from deep study with your own teachers, as well as come from lived experiences, to draw from that. And that's completely shifted in the past two, three decades, I think, with this whole capitalistic framework on mass producing Yoga teachers and creating a whole population with the initials, the RYTs and the whatever those are, without actually much time that a person needs to deepen their own practice.
Jivana Heyman 00:03:46
Yeah. So what would you say to someone who has taken a 200 hour training, and, how do they gain that experience? Just through time? Is it their personal practice? Like what is it that you think needs to happen?
Anjali Rao 00:04:06
Well, first of all, I think a 200 hour is like the basic, basic, fundamental, foundational thing that you can do as a practitioner, leave alone a teacher. So just first of all, understanding that by getting a 200 hour, one is not really prepared to teach in the in this big way. I would say, start with your own practice, learn what more go deeper into the things that move you more, Yoga is so vast, and one can really take your whole, and one does, take a whole lifetime just figuring out where you want to be in the world of Yoga. So I would say take your time and know that it is just the beginning. You know, continue always being a student. I think those are the three big things one can share to a freshly minted 200 hour graduate, it's an exciting thing. It's not a, you know, stressful thing, it should be something which, excites one to learn more as a student, to practice more, because these are the things that are going to change your life. I always tell people who ask me this question, that first and foremost, one is a practitioner. I don't really at that point really care much about students. It is me as a practitioner first. And all the mess that comes with it, all the learnings that come with it, and only after I feel like I've integrated something enough, that I feel I can share this with some integrity.
Jivana Heyman 00:05:41
Yeah. I agree with you. I mean, I think the 200 hour is just, you know, the tip of the iceberg. But I also, I'm the rare person that actually defends the 200 hour, I think it's a place where you and I have disagreed, because I actually think it's more accessible that way. But, what's unfortunate is that it's not perceived more as just a deepening of practice. Because what I see in having led, I mean, I've led probably like, 40 200 hour trainings in my life, I see it as such an incredible opportunity for people to go a little bit deeper. And I think the teaching is separate, like learning how to be the teacher of actually doing it, really does come later, but a 200 hour, it really is a great opportunity. And a rare one, I think in the west, to spend time studying Yoga and Yoga philosophy in particular, which is like otherwise completely ignored. Right?
Anjali Rao 00:06:36
I think there is conflation here, right? I mean, why does one have to be a teacher to be deepening one's study or practice? One doesn't have to teach to do that. But unfortunately, this is a framework that has been sort of been in many ways inflicted on the study of Yoga, that one is, that, oh, to study Yoga, I have to do this 200 hour. Why can't we study Yoga for the sake of studying Yoga?
Jivana Heyman 00:07:00
Yeah. Yeah, I don't know. And also, but this is where we're left with, you know, you and I always have this disagreement, because it's like, I'm so practical, you know, I'm just like, you're more analytical and academic and probably correct. But I'm very practical. I'm just like, okay, now we have 1000s and 1000s, hundreds of 1000s of Yoga teachers, but at least they've done some study, they get exposed to some of the deeper teachings, which you won't get if you just go to a Yoga class.
Anjali Rao 00:07:28
I agree, I totally agree that it's a framework that we're left with, and we have two ways to approach the framework, right. One, either you go with the framework and see what what we can do with it. And two, sort of divest from it in some way and say, I want to just study and practice, and this is going to transform my life, and thus transform others, the collective. So there are many ways to look at it. And I agree with you that yes, that if one wants to be, if one is somewhat called to be a teacher, then this is a good way to get into it. But, and the first step in that is to know that you're forever a student. And the second step is to start slow, and not just jump into something really big. Start slow, like my first few students were my family members, like people who I could just con into learning from me.
Jivana Heyman 00:08:23
Yeah. But you know, there's another problem I see. And this is the part I kind of get into, which is like, Okay, you have all these people who take the training, but to me, it's usually the ones who feel like they're not ready, that would make the best teacher, it's usually the ones that actually start to see the enormity of what they've taken on. And oftentimes, those are people who maybe have more lived experience and kind of get how important the role of teacher is, who then hesitate. And then you might have younger people kind of just jump in and say, I'm a teacher now. And I mean, and that's fine, whatever they're doing what they do, but I just, part of what this book is about, for me, is encouraging people, especially those who have marginalised identities to step into the role of teacher, if they're so inclined.
Anjali Rao 00:09:10
Absolutely agree on that I think marginalised identities especially, we are grappling with so much of, you know, erasure, especially as leaders of anything or space holding for our own communities. So I am absolutely for that population to increase, but and also hold this truth that one doesn't have to be pushed to be a teacher when they're not ready, just because now they're 200 hours trained. Take your time, go slow, and keep learning.
Jivana Heyman 00:09:49
Yeah. The other thing I guess I perceive teaching Yoga in different ways, to me there's like someone who leads Asana classes. And I think that's okay. Like with the 200 hour, you can lead a few people through a few poses, and like you said, you can do family or friends or whatever, or teach the Y. That's fine. But I think if you are going to start teaching, more subtle practice, and learning how to make the practice accessible, and I think you have to do further study, I mean, if that's just part of the path of being a teacher is ongoing practice and study is never ending, never ending.
Anjali Rao 00:10:27
Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I see people wanting to really go big, you know, quote unquote, 'big' and do something really more glamorous, or what is perceived to be a sexy way of things to do. I think it would be better to really do the simple things well first, and really anchor ourselves into the nuts and bolts of teaching Trikonasana, and three ways to teach and learn and practice Trikonasana. Like try, I would start there. Then you can talk about other things, not because you don't know, but at least you're, as a beginning teacher, you're really understanding how to hold space and communicate in a way which feels inclusive. And authentic, whatever that is.
Jivana Heyman 00:11:18
Yeah. I mean, that's what I see in most of my programmes is people who are kind of newish. And then they go out into the world, and they start teaching, and they realise, oh, my God, I don't know what I'm doing.
Anjali Rao 00:11:30
Yeah, exactly. And that's a good thing to feel, you know, one should feel like, I don't know what I'm doing.
Jivana Heyman 00:11:36
Anjali Rao 00:11:36
And I want to learn this more, or I've made a mistake. And all of us have made mistakes as beginning teachers, and we continue to make mistakes, because we are humans. So we are flawed, and we are not perfect. But what do we learn from that? And then how do we grow from that?
Jivana Heyman 00:11:54
Yeah, I mean, for me, I think being in the Yoga classroom teaching has been an incredible education. I learned so much from my students, you know, they showed me what they need. It was so different than what I thought, and it took years, I mean, 1000s and 1000s of hours that I taught before I felt like oh, wow, now I start to see what I'm actually doing. I mean, it really took me a very long time.
Anjali Rao 00:12:24
Jivana Heyman 00:12:26
So in the in the foreword, you use start out actually with a quote that I think is so beautiful, it's related to what we're talking about. It says, it's from Tagore. "One lamp can never light another unless it continues to burn its own flame". I'm just curious if you could talk about that a little bit more.
Anjali Rao 00:12:42
Absolutely. First of all, Tagore was like a thought leader in educational reform. Because he really understood the power of experiencing first, like the first hand experience of something and being completely moved by what you're studying, rather than just doing something by rote memorization. Like really living it. So he started this wonderful experiential school that is even now a big leader in such education in India, in Kolkata, called Shantiniketan. And I think, you know, learning and teaching is in a very liminal space, there is liminality there, which means that you're constantly learning, you're constantly teaching, there's always like this shifting space between learning and teaching. And that is what I wanted to kind of start off the foreword with. And because that's something that I believe in, that I'm always reading, and I'm always studying three different things, even when I go and teach like, a 45 minute class, which I've probably done 100 times, so so that there was always something new and fresh. And something that I sat with, and wanted to be, wanted to invite the students into more curiosity. And that can come only with I think, from my very humble opinion, from study and being humble with what you're sharing.
Jivana Heyman 00:14:09
Anjali Rao 00:14:11
Yeah. It's so easy to, when you're in a space of, quote unquote, "a Yoga teacher" to suddenly make it all about yourself. That "I" did this, and "I" know this. And so I feel Yes, you have to know and own what you know, but at the same time know that that can shift and expand and, or change. So to be open to that. I think that's very important in the world that we live in.
Jivana Heyman 00:14:38
Yeah. Can you talk about that more? I mean, I know you, you go on in the foreward and you talk about service, to teach us service. And I think that seems related to humility, because I think oftentimes, service is lost in contemporary teaching. Instead, there's this focus on celebrity, you know, in contemporary teaching, actually, right? Like the individual, building yourself up and your following, and it feels like actually diametrically opposed to the teaching of Yoga.
Anjali Rao 00:15:07
And it has always been so I think, you know, even in our, from our epics that we look at, that I mentioned that in your foreward as well, that that power dynamics is very present as a teacher student, which you also talk about in your book. So, yes, the teacher is at a sort of a heightened power, and we, as the, in a capitalistic way that is sort of fanned into celebritydom, and celebritification, or brand, or whatever that is, of one person, and then everything revolves around that brand and that niche, but in fact, we're very complex human beings. And to always be aware of the framework in which we are operating, and how that impacts how we show up as teachers, I feel that there is a dance that we have to do to own what we know. And at the same time, not make it very specific, we are also far much more and it always expands. So to be in a more expansive way. And at the same time, not make it all about yourself. So to kind of be humble about it. Celebritification builds your ego, your Ahamkara to a very sort of, I don't know, what's the word, exponential, way. And it's the antithesis of the practice of Yoga, which is actually to understand the self in a way, which is beyond the parameters of the mind body ego complex.
Jivana Heyman 00:16:56
Yeah, it's just so it's so funny, isn't it like that the literally the way that Yoga teaching is presented as like, against Yoga. At least, it seems to me. You know, like, this whole celebrity culture is actually the opposite of what we're actually really trying to do in the practice, it seems so contradictory.
Anjali Rao 00:17:15
It is. And at the same time, we live in this world where, you know, quote unquote, the number of followers you have, or the ways in which you present something is far more important than what you're actually saying. And teachers, I mean, see, when I started, or when you started, we didn't really have a social media presence, I did not have a social, quote unquote, "a presence" until three to four years ago, you know, until the pandemic made everybody sort of come online. I used to teach 10 to 12 classes, and nobody knew other than my friends circle what I did. So I think this is a reality that we have to grapple with. And I'm being very practical here, because you always accuse me of thinking in an academic way, being practical in the sense that we all are now in this world where there is a necessity for us to have a social media presence. And at the same time, I feel that we can use that in some way, which is also seeing that as a practice. How can I show up in a way which is authentic, which has integrity, which is honesty, which is disrupting harm? So can we practice the Niyamas and the Yamas when we are showing up on social media, and that in itself is a practice, and that in itself is a teaching.
Jivana Heyman 00:18:41
But I also like to honour the people that are serving in person with their community, you know, like, to me that's such a beautiful, powerful thing, to teach locally, to have a small student base and to know them well.
Anjali Rao 00:18:57
Jivana Heyman 00:18:58
To care for them, is such a powerful thing. That's how I spent most of my teaching. And I think that sometimes it's lost, like the importance of that part of teaching, of just being a community organiser, actually, within, you know, supporting and caring for people around you. Like that's what teaching really is about.
Anjali Rao 00:19:16
And that's what it used to be. The teacher-student relationship was a very interpersonal, you know, intimate one in so many ways, because the teacher really knew what the student was in terms of personality, in terms of inclination, in terms of proclivity towards something. So that sort of a dynamic was a very, and it was built over a course of, you know, a decade of one student with a teacher, and of course, that has been abused, abused in that relationship as well. But there was a lot of power and potency in that intimate relationship, and that is not there anymore. We can have shades of that perhaps in communities that we build. So one has to be intentional in how we build community. I always love the smaller cohorts because it is so much more juicier to really get into the relationship aspect in some way, not like, you know, you're best friends. But you really are understanding what the student needs and then sharing from a place of that knowing.
Jivana Heyman 00:20:22
Yeah. I mean, to me, when I'm teaching an ongoing group of students for a period of time, there's a completely different experience than constantly new students coming in or, or teaching online big groups where I can't see everyone. It's just a different feeling. And again, I just want to honour those teachers that are holding their community and working in that more intimate way. I just think it's such a beautiful thing. So anything else you want to share Anjali, about teaching?
Anjali Rao 00:20:52
Ah, no, I love the book that you've written. And I think it's really an important one, because you talk about so many important things as teachers and how we can be of service. And I know, you know, though, we disagree on so many things. One thing that, there are many things we do agree on. And one of that is that we both consider teaching to be a sacred profession, career, or a path of life, if you will, as it is a part of Karma Yoga, I think and Seva in so many ways. So for those of the people who are reading your book, or listening to this, I know I hope you consider that you are absolutely transforming a person's life and hence, the world that you live in.
Jivana Heyman 00:21:41
Thank you for that. And I don't disagree with you on most things.
Anjali Rao 00:21:46
Yeah, we don't.
Jivana Heyman 00:21:47
It's a couple of little tiny things.
Anjali Rao 00:21:50
Jivana Heyman 00:21:50
Anyway, thank you Anjali, thanks for being here. Again, thanks for writing the foreword, and for everything you do. It's great talking to you today.
Anjali Rao 00:21:57
Thank you so much Jivana.
Jivana Heyman 00:21:59
Anjali Rao 00:22:00
Jivana Heyman 00:22:02
Thanks again for being here. I really appreciate your support. And I hope you'll consider getting my book, The Teacher's Guide To Accessible Yoga. It's available wherever you buy books. My hope is that the book will provide additional support for you in your teaching journey. You know, for me, I always need to have a community of teachers around me to learn from, to inspire me, to keep me in check. And I hope we can do that for each other. So thanks again for being here. All right, take care. Bye.