No one dreams of becoming a yoga teacher when they grow up. My own son thinks about becoming a fire man or a race car driver. Those seem reasonable, especially for an energetic two year old.
I began my practice of yoga much like that two year old race car driver, full of enthusiasm and "go!" Inspired by the lives of great masters like Buddha, I planned on reaching enlightenment within the year... Perhaps a bit naive, but a little enthusiasm can go a long way. Over time, an important insight began to take shape, that enlightenment is not a static state of being that one reaches, rather a dynamic process of enlightening. Enlightenment can be brought to any topic that is studied, practiced, and ultimately mastered. These might include cooking, basket weaving, or yoga.
Most teachers explain that yoga means "union." To unite mind and body, breath and spirit, sun and moon, prana and apana, that is yoga. So, it is helpful to think of yoga as a relationship between two (or more) forces which seem to be in opposition. This yoga of relationship is constantly at play, especially when we take these opposites and negotiate a happy union. Yoga is practiced by relating consciously with our own being-ness (mind, body, breath) and how we relate to the environment around us, especially other people. There are innumerable times throughout each day in which we may practice.
I remember time spent at an ashram in South India amongst monastics and lay practitioners all very much dedicated to contemplative practice including yoga and meditation. While the atmosphere was clear for our practice, nestled in natural beauty with many accomplished yogis, we all were still faced with the challenge of getting along with one another. Disagreement, anger, selfishness, dishonesty, apathy existed within the Sangha of practitioners in much the same way it would exist in a high school. Like jagged rocks thrown in a tumbler, we repeatedly observe a cycle of conflict and resolution that makes us smooth in the end.
For most of us, the most rewarding and challenging relationships are those with our family. Our spouse, children, parents amongst others provide fertile ground for us to practice. We can be at our best (or worst) because we let down our guard and become vulnerable. For me as a parent, it is crucial to remember that moments of frustration are the best for practice. How do I remain calm? Oh, take a breath. That didn't work. Take two more. Keep practicing...
As humans, we are highly adaptable and can habituate ourselves to many different ways of being. A formal daily practice gives us perspective and begins the process of creating positive habits. Some days are easy, some are difficult. Our little ritual is the same, roll out the mat, turn the attention within. What is it that changes?
This habit of contemplative practice continues to shape us day in and day out, making us better as we age. We can observe that the body is framed with improved health and perhaps we notice an increased energy level and decreased stress levels. Hopefully, relationships improve or we at least know how to relate better.
Like many others, I became a yoga teacher by accident (or by fate.) I am very lucky to make my profession one of helping others. For me the practice of yoga and the practice of teaching yoga are a lot like parenting. While I can observe many achievements and shortcomings, ultimately it is my job to be present with each moment as it arises.