yoga teacher- know thyself as eternal student.

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silly yogi on a log- photo by Reen

Teaching yoga may not have made me a better teacher, but it has certainly made me a better student. I know quite certainly that through my limited stint of teaching yoga I have not become the calm, intelligent, confident teacher that I’d hoped to be, but as a student I’ve grown far more patient, kind and engaged.  The yoga student that I am now, post teacher training, practicum and a couple of months of teaching yoga to the general public, is far more likely to give a fellow teacher a second chance before moving on to another class. There’s really nothing, aside from freaky yoga voice or attempts to force me to do something my body (and/or mind) refuses to do, that would make me completely repulsed by a yoga teacher. My yoga student mind is open and full of compassion.

It’s really not too far removed from why I’m so nice to servers at restaurants and why I not only put the sheets in piles on the floor in the hotel, but leave a tip on the table. I understand all too personally just how challenging it is to work in the service industry. In fact, I firmly believe that everyone should have to work service jobs before judging anyone in those positions.

yoga teachers aren’t just in it for the karma, people.

And teaching yoga is ultimately a service industry job. Even in the event that the teacher is not receiving payment for the service, there’s often an expectation that is created that the person who is teaching is the one in charge of creating the entire guided yoga experience. And if it’s a bad experience, it’s most often blamed on the teacher. If someone has an injury in class, it’s most often blamed on the teacher. And if the class sucks big time, it’s most certainly on the teacher to take full responsibility….not that the blame is actually verbalized to the teacher. In most cases, there are just down-turned eyes and students rushing out of the room as if we just had a dirty affair in a mutual friend’s coat closet during a cocktail party. I feel so dirty and confused.

It’s no wonder that before teaching a yoga class, I experience all kinds of fears and anxieties. I know this isn’t very “yogic” (add that one to the “reasons why I’m un-yogic” list), but I have a tendency to prepare for teaching in much the same way I do a dinner gathering- plan, worry, over -think, reconcile to being freaky/ nerdy/ unpopular/ imperfect, experience all sorts of interesting mind/ body shifts, and then forget every single thing the second I step into the room to begin. And it’s a vicious cycle that I can’t seem to break despite meditating, putting  Bach’s Rescue Remedy under my tongue, or breathing in my worry and exhaling my peace (and vice versa).

Let’s be honest- there are times when I’m standing in the front of the class when my mind goes blank, I attempt to read the blank expressions on the students in the room, I wonder who the hell I am to be “teaching” anything, or I begin chuckling at the seriously silly situation we’re all in together. Because yoga class is funny, people. I didn’t know that fact so intimately until I went to the land of yoga Oz and what was behind the curtain was revealed. There is no Wizard (sorry, Bikram). There are just humble and not-so-humble folk who are offering a bit of their own take on an ancient practice. Some are better at doing that than others- and some take it more seriously (I’m not one of those people).

And despite the pre-class anxiety, the teaching guffaws and the post class fears of unworthiness,  I do love teaching yoga- once people have arrived and I know the crowd (or lack thereof) that I’m working with, I can most often take a deep breath and dive in. I’m beginning to find my voice and to recognize that I don’t have to be anyone other than me. In fact, I’m better off when I utilize my own personality rather than trying to imposter a perceived yogi persona (didn’t the Wizard learn that, too?). I have to trust that teaching yoga is not a job but a personal journey- and my walking shoes are waiting for me at the studio door (sorry- no ruby slippers….).

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I fell in yoga class. Which means I fall in life.

I fell in yoga class the other day. Not in a small losing my balance way, but in a full on fall to my side and rolling onto the mat of the woman next to me way. The class was holding a reversed lunge, and just a few seconds into the pose, I lost footing. I remember thinking that I should steady myself and work at locating the elusive mūlabandha when I completely lost balance. I tipped onto my side and rolled onto my back as though I was in a fire drill. I was mortified. I judged myself. I wanted to crawl to the door and run, not walk, to my car. Instead, I laughed a little and muttered a little apology to my fellow yogi before returning to my mat.

Self-judgment can come up so quickly, and this experience was no exception. I kicked myself in a mental way several times before realizing how funny and human this was. Just another moment in time when I could fall and recognize that falling is just a part of life. In fact, I fall all the time in small and not so small ways; mentally, spiritually, and, obviously, physically. Maybe I’m not better for it, but I’m more uniquely me for it. And I love myself anyway. Because yoga to me isn’t about striving for physical perfection, it’s about seeing the imperfection as a part of me and loving it. Loving me. Becoming more whole. Being authentic. As Brené Brown says, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”

 I’m awkward and shy, silly, irreverent and a wacky mix of girly and tomboy. Sometimes I feel as though my heart is going to burst with love for the world, and at other times, I lose my temper and say or do something I instantly regret. I’m human and I have so much room for growth. And I’m mostly open to learning and growing, which is about all I can offer.

 So, to the woman in yoga class who had a complete stranger roll onto your mat, and who ignored that stranger when she attempted a tongue-tied apology after class: thank you. I honor your role as teacher.