Facets of transformative teaching
by Shobhan Richard Faulds
The first in a three-part series on the role of the transformational teacher
The potency of a spiritual tradition resides in the quality of its teachings and teachers. Transformative teachers embody the teachings, integrating them deeply into their lives and being. The yoga tradition has always recognized a spectrum of transformative teachers, designated by titles such as pandit, acharya and guru.
Here are some of the functions fulfilled by transformative teachers.
Spiritual friendship. People embarking on a path of change benefit from associating with others who open the door to new ways of thinking and being. Often this type of friendship is needed to counter feelings of being emotionally isolated, with no one to share a sense of inner discontent and the desire to grow beyond it. Some transformative teachers bring people together in spiritual community.
Yoga training. Yoga is a path of practice. Some transformative teachers introduce new students to the basic techniques in yoga classes. Others take aspiring students deeper into asana, pranayama or meditation in retreat settings. The techniques of yoga can be applied in many formats, and each teacher must find his or her niche and way.
Mentoring. Students sustaining a yoga practice will confront periodic challenges and occasional crises. Personal mentoring is often the ingredient students need to sustain a steady incremental process of organic growth. At times, a mentor can be a critical element in converting a student’s breakdown into a breakthrough. Stephen Cope’s recent KYTA resource tape, The Four Functions of the Transformational Teacher, eloquently details the mentoring skills of mirroring, projective identification and being an alter ego and benign adversary.
Revealing the sacred. The path of yoga has always been one of initiation, empowerment and ultimately revelation. Some transformative teachers gain the capacity to help students move beyond the personal and into transpersonal states of communion and union with the divine. It is a profound mystery how any imperfect individual—teacher or student—can embody the universal Spirit. Yet the teachings are clear that each of us is fully human and fully divine, and that the direct experience of our true spiritual nature is available to all of us. Although the path to spiritual awakening is never without risk, the yoga tradition states unequivocally that gifted teachers can be instrumental in the effort to wake up to a truth that exists beyond the mind.
Personal practice is the way
The practice of Kripalu yoga develops the personal qualities essential to a transformative teacher. The first is self-acceptance, which over time ripens into the ability to rest in compassionate self-observation. Applying the tools of yoga with this attitude helps you to identify your “edges” and skillfully move beyond them. Regular practice not only revitalizes the body, it opens the heart to full feeling and a broad range of sensations and emotions. It heightens self-awareness, bestowing insight into the unconscious patterns that drive your behavior. In Kripalu yoga, the path of personal transformation unfolds as you develop the sensitivity and clarity required to be intimate with yourself and fully present to your life experience.
Personal transformation always spills over into the quality of interpersonal relationships. Sensitivity expresses as empathy—the ability to closely attune to the inner experience of another. Heightened awareness expresses as clarity and creativity, which lend value to the perspectives and insights you have to offer. As you begin to radiate to others a non-judging presence and willingness to be at your edge, your interactions naturally uplift and inspire. You become a catalyst for transformation. People with these capacities exist in every arena of life.
A transformative teacher is a person who feels a calling to take this process even deeper. An authentic transformative teacher remains a perpetual student committed to a lifetime of learning and personal transformation. In addition, they explore venues in which to transmit the seed teachings of yoga, consciously cultivate a wide range of interpersonal skills, and learn how to nurture the ongoing development of students. Walking the path toward transformative teaching is a soul journey that unfolds differently for each individual. Yet the path winds through countryside that has been traversed by others before us, and there is much that can be learned from their experience.
Shobhan Richard Faulds, M.A., J.D., is a certified professional-level Kripalu yoga teacher. He will codirect the 2004 KYTA Conference, Oct. 21 to 24, where he will offer the keynote address, Fully Human, Fully Divine, Fully Alive and the workshop Catalyst for Change: Becoming a Transformational Teacher. Shobhan and his wife, poet Danna Faulds, are developing The Yoga Tradition of Swami Kripalu: A Two-Year Home Study Course for Teachers and Depth Practitioners. For more information. contact Danna at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: The next article in this series will focus on the benefits and detriments of the guru/disciple relationship. The final installment will focus on the evolving role of contemporary yoga teachers.