Full disclosure: I have not been teaching for that long. I completed my Teacher Training in April of 2016, began assisting this summer, and finished my hands-on YI internship in September, and have been teaching at Yoga Innovations officially since then. Beginning teaching is terrifying at first, then thrilling, then humbling, and then by the end of my internship at the studio, I discovered teaching had become an extension of my self. It is also one of my favorite ways to give of myself—fully. Here are a few things I’ve learned from these beginning stages of doing something I love, that I believe you can extrapolate and apply to any type of life you wish to lead:
Doing what I love all day doesn’t mean it’s sunshine and rainbows all day. It’s hard. Not the same kind of hard as working a job that you hate, just to make money. Been there, done that. Nah, that kind of work can suck the soul out of your mouth. Like a real-life dementor. Conversely, the more you do what you love, the more you form your corporeal Patronus. Your soul power magnifies. It’s powerful stuff. Maybe too powerful. Every time you ask yourself why you do what you do, your decision-making list of pros and cons sharpens. An increase of passion naturally increases your concentration, and ultimately makes you more effective in your pursuits. Unless of course you realize in time how high the stakes are. You can become paralyzed but how important everything seems. Deep breaths, remind yourself: really, just by knowing that what you do makes even the tiniest positive impact, it is worth it. That satisfaction deepens into contentment if you also enjoy the doing, win or lose. But it’s not a job anymore remember, it’s a way of life. Giving away a bit of your soul power every day can exhaust you if you don’t replenish. Self-care is often essential to doing your job, not a luxury.
I’m motivated by something stronger than my interests. I study and stay on top of my yoga education because I want to be better, same as ever… for myself, yes, but more so because I’m expected to share. Wanting to be clear in your knowledge, so that you can more smoothly teach it to others, adds another layer of responsibility to the mix. My students make me better because they inspire me to look up specific things that I never would have thought to investigate. My yoga education is driven by not only my curiosity, but my students’. I love building a communication with them, our own language. They ignore when I weirdly mix up my left from my right, or an arm from a leg, most times they chuckle. Mostly they don’t even have to say anything; sometimes I learn from watching the subtle changes in their body postures and energies, or the hilarious looks of confusion on their faces.
Interdependently, there is a need for more confidence in who I am, than ever before. I’ve struggled with physical, mental, and spiritual crises in the past – and to know peace with all of what is imperfect in me is a real relief. Not saying old habits die quietly; my insecurities are cantankerous. It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that without loving myself, I can’t do what I love – because I don’t love me. So, how can I even be me? And therefore be present enough to get anything done? That was the old way of functioning. My old ways and wounds still unavoidably inform my work sometimes, but they rarely dictate the whole day because I’m confident enough, and I trust in my yoga practice enough, to try new things. Practicing this loving craft affords me the strength to create new situations. I’m able to take risks not because I’m attracted to danger and not to diabolically test the fates, but for the simple fun of adventure. The joy of trying something new. I have the capacity to do things again for pleasure. Who’d ‘a thunk yoga teaching could give me that back?
Relationships strengthen around trust and discipline. My relationships have improved in temperament, I’m more accepting of others’ shortcomings, less guilt is associated with my own, and trust can begin to build. This means my social relationships and my relationships to other pursuits. When I’m not teaching yoga, I’m a writer and actor. Practicing these crafts have taken on the semblance of a real practice, like a yoga practice. Where it’s not a test, anymore; there is no judgment but my own. I’m able to deconstruct my old neuroses and acquire new patterns to benefit growth in all areas of my life.
On my worst day, I still have something to offer. Take it from me, don’t give into anxiety and crumble under your own limited expectations of perfection. I’ve realized that my struggles with procrastination will likely linger on…up until and including my death. However, yoga teaches me that that which is in the way of my path, is my path.
Keep It Simple, Stupid. There’s a reason why the system of yoga works, trust in that. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you teach with a brand new sequence, or connect the scientific theory of relativity to cultural pluralism and back to the importance of the individual, like even though we preach connectivity, yogis AREN’T COMMUNISTS…chill. You don’t need to give all of that, out loud, in a single class. Teach what you know, trust that it will be enough. Students come with their own baggage, their own demons to battle. They are in charge of their experience in that room. Not you. You can only guide their bodies and give them the support to witness what happens.
No one should give anyone too much power. The way a yoga teacher brings life, vigor, and personality to the class – you really feel like you know them. Like maybe they’re the guru you’ve been looking for? You waste no time, for some strange, cosmic reason, in sharing details of your psychology or ailments in your body, looking for guidance. I’ve been embarrassed about it before, unable to stop myself. Not saying you should be embarrassed. Sometimes a yoga class just brings that out in you. Trust me: yoga teachers worth their salt are genuinely comfortable with this experience. We bring all of ourselves to a class, so you can, too. It’s a safe space. However, I will say, that it’s entirely too easy to abuse this power. When a sensitive, but tender soul comes to you looking for advice – how easy it would be to assert what exactly it is that person should do. After all, you’ve studied the chakras. And she asked, didn’t she? Please, in other studios, I’ve seen teachers take advantage of this connection, with innocent intentions. It’s dangerous. No one should give anyone that much say or power over their own experience. It’s overwhelming sometimes, when people come to you, looking for answers – but only if you assume you know the right one. It’s a lot easier, and more helpful to consistently bring yourself back into a beginner mindset, and face a problem side by side. Remember that the best teachers are the best students. Two heads, and two hearts, are better than one.
The voices in my head are helpful now. When I practice on my own, in my room or in my back yard, the voices in my head that take over…come to reflect the voices of teachers that have deeply helped me. I hear Claire, Candace, Dana, Megan, Jess…giving me anatomical cues or just reminding me its O.K. to cry in pigeon. We really do absorb what we hear; we’re so good at internalizing it. Your inner voices, like mine, could probably stand to be more positive. Interestingly, these inner voices come out while teaching a yoga class. It’s the most vulnerable activity I’ve practiced to date. The voice I use when I’m teaching yoga is full of all of me just like when I practice – my insecurities, my drive, my pluck, my sensitivity, my passion. In order to not let any of my negative juju taint anyone’s experience, I now practice speaking to myself gently, on my mat and off. Not chastising my tummy in low push-up or cursing my distraction in savasana. When I slip and fall into old standards of depression, I bring myself back to my breath. I talk to myself like a yoga teacher.
I know you can, too.