Yoga Philosophy 101: Why Every Yoga Teacher Should Know the Yoga Sutra

Every yoga teacher should learn the core concepts of yoga philosophy before building their own teachings.

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According to international yoga teacher Lizzie Lasater, yoga philosophy is like grammar. Just as a writer has to learn what an adverb is and when to use a semicolon before constructing sentences, every yoga teacher should learn the core concepts of yoga philosophy before building their own teachings.

Here, Lizzie shares her thoughts on the importance of the Yoga Sutra as a foundation of learning for all teachers.

Yoga Journal:Why do you think the Yoga Sutra is such a key text for a yoga teacher to know?
Lizzie Lasater: The Yoga Sutra is an essential framework. For me, there are two cores of teaching yoga: anatomy and the Yoga Sutra.

If you think of the image of a building being constructed, you see the concrete slabs, the columns and the roof—that’s the skeleton. Anatomy and the Yoga Sutra, to me, are the core elements that make up that skeleton of yoga. Then, each teacher fills in the façade, the visual expression and the architecture of the building based on their personality, experience and the stories they tell. Having a solid grounding in the Yoga Sutra is very important because it gives a stable structure to back up your teaching.

YJ: Why isn’t yoga philosophy emphasized more in teacher trainings, then?
I think most yoga teacher trainings are far too short. Yoga is a vast body of knowledge. It’s a lifelong study, a passion, a calling and a daily practice. If you have only 200 hours, you have to look at how you’re going to split that up: How much time are you going to spend on anatomy? How much time are you going to spend on philosophy? How much are you going to spend on pranayama, meditation, and asana?

So I understand why it happens that philosophy isn’t emphasized. And it’s also often taught in a very dry, disconnected way. But the way our course teaches it, and the way I think teachers should learn it, is very one-to-one with your practice and your life. That, I think, is incredibly relevant.

YJ: How has studying the Yoga Sutra enriched your own yoga teaching?
It’s been so important. I was in London teaching a workshop a week or two [after filming the online course], and I found that my teaching was different. When my students asked questions, I found the answers arising. There’s always that moment when a student asks a question in front of a room full of 30 people, and there’s a little nervous question mark—I’m on the spot to say something intelligent and beneficial. I was really grateful so often to find responses arising that were connected with the Sutra.

It was almost like I had filled up a reservoir of this knowledge. When a student was asking something, I could immediately connect it to these foundational, core concepts of yoga. A student might say, “I don’t know how much effort I should put in and how much I should let go.” That is a core question of yoga, abhyasa and vairagya [practice and non-attachment]. How much is enough? It’s not one, and it’s not the other. The answer would tumble out from there.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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About Our Experts
Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, PT, has been teaching yoga since 1971. She trains students and teachers throughout the United States as well as abroad, is one of the founders of Yoga Journal magazine, and is president of the California Yoga Teachers Association. She has written eight books. Learn more at judithhansonlasater.com.

Raised in San Francisco and trained as a designer, Lizzie Lasater, MArch, RYT, teaches yoga internationally and online. She sometimes jokes that she’s been practicing yoga since the womb because her mom, Judith Hanson Lasater, has been teaching since before Lizzie’s birth. Lizzie lives in the Alps with her Austrian husband. You can find her schedule and classes at lizzielasater.com.