The Power of Introverted Yoga Teachers. ~ Duncan Parviainen

Via on Apr 20, 2012

This post was inspired by Susan Cain’s book, Quiet.

We all know the extroverted yoga teacher: the one who has a lot to say, who is an engaging and fascinating speaker, the one who is always out and about, making grand gestures and expressive faces, networking, promoting, making new connections, going out for dinner with yoga friends, having a yoga party, inviting you over, always socializing and making new friends. I love these teachers, their vibrant energy fascinates and inspires me, and their interest to connect with so many people I find admirable. I get excited when I am around them.

So it is no surprise that I pushed myself to follow in their footsteps. I thought to myself, “This is what successful Yoga teachers do and so this is what I have to do.” I admired them, and so I thought I had to become more like them.

I am not a natural extrovert. Conversation (unless deep and interesting or hilarious) usually exhausts me. I find meeting new people tiring and the whole idea of socializing and networking is overwhelming to me. I am (for the most part) an introvert.

I like my couch, my books, daydreaming, creating in solitude, being by myself and I like keeping to myself. I prefer being soft-spoken in large crowds (except when I am with life-long friends). I love listening. I sometimes have difficulty articulating, and pronouncing words. I generally get nervous addressing large crowds, and my face is not naturally expressive (people used to always say, “Duncan, is something wrong? You look so serious.”).

And as some of you read this, you will probably think “Wow, this is not the yoga teacher or the friend I know.”

This is because since the age of twelve, I have forced myself to develop a more extroverted appearance in society (it all started when Mr. Speedy gave me a ‘C’ on my superbly well researched and written presentation because I was a ‘poor presenter and did not engage the audience’). Being a professional dancer, yoga teacher, President Scholar, working in retail—all required me to develop a more extroverted appearance, just to survive. An appearance similar to that of a grandiose businessman: firm handshake, eye contact, smile, smile, smile, comfortable talking, strong and passionate voice, excellent articulation and a friendly manner.

And so with this push and favoritism towards extroversion, I began to believe that being a social recluse was bad, and that if I wanted to be a good and successful Yoga Teacher, I would have to be more extroverted, social and amicable.

And then I read Susan Cain’s book and it reminded me of the importance of being introverted in our society. It reminded me that it was actually good for my many natural introverted tendencies to be a part of my teaching. I have many introverted tendencies, such as:

I will usually turn down lunch and dinner invitations to be by myself, not because I do not like you, but because that is how I recharge my energy.

I will sometimes appear aloof and serious, not because I am, but because I spend a lot of time in my head contemplating ideas and my plan of action. I may get nervous when I address forty five people in my yoga class to talk about philosophy, but I am hoping to share something of value with you.

I do not like talking a lot, but I will listen and ask questions. I may not be the most articulate and enthralling speaker, but trust that I have been contemplating what I say for the last few hours, if not days. I may stumble over my words more than a few times, but I will keep cuing the class no matter how tongue-tied I get. And just like Buddha, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Einstein and Julia Roberts, I enjoy being by myself for insight, creation and learning.

For all the other fellow introverts out there (approximately 33% of the population), I wanted to share with you a list of the following five biggest strengths of being an introverted yoga teacher:

1. You inspire other introverts to become teachers or leaders in their community.

2.  You create more space for your students to release and reflect. Rather than excessive talking, introverted yoga teachers are more prone to being quiet, soft-spoken and giving well considered cues, allowing their students more space for inward reflection and connection to their body.

3. You are a great listener. Introverts are great at listening and asking questions—often trying to understand the whole story before making any decision.

4. You show greater empathy. Seventy percent of people, who claim they are sensitive, are introverts. They have a strong ability to empathize with others. As Brene Brown says, “Empathy is the antidote to shame, it has the power to uplift and heal.”

5. You are highly innovative and creative. Steven Spielberg, Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, George Orwell, Marcel Proust, JK Rowling, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Hanks, Barbara Walters… are/were all introverts.

So if you are an introvert, love it, and use your introversion to inspire, build, heal and create.

And for all those extroverts out there, I love you (I mean, I am marrying one) and you will definitely catch me at one of your classes!


~

Prepared by Soumyajeet Chattaraj/Edited by Tanya L. Markul

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About Duncan Parviainen

Duncan Parviainen loves yoga. He often spends a lot of time alone in the wild, smiling in the rain, and soaking in the sun. You can connect with him on his website, on Facebook and Twitter or email him at duncan@duncanyoga.ca.

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55 Responses to “The Power of Introverted Yoga Teachers. ~ Duncan Parviainen”

  1. Paul says:

    Duncan,

    This is beautiful beyond the limitations of words. Introverted yoga instructors have been unfairly judging ourselves against the others, and your article articulates why we should stop. Our students pay us compliments when they say things like "you know what I love about your class? you really listen to me!" And as Ghandi said, "before speaking consider if it is an improvement on silence." So thank you brother. Jai Bhagwan

  2. Yogaisawesome says:

    I'm not a yoga teacher, but I'm an introvert that practices a lot of yoga. Something I have noticed in the last year is that I feel much less introverted in my yoga classes. It is the one time I like to crack jokes, laugh, and ask questions. I don't know if it's the yoga itself that causes this change in me, or my kula. Thoughts?

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment! There could be many reasons why you switch to being more extroverted while with your kula and at yoga. From most of the literature I have read I have found that (generally) introverts prefer (feel most comfortable) having deep conversations, engaging in social activities, and interactions with people they know well. As a result, most introverts prefer spending their 'talkative', 'social time' with their partners, immediate family, or with very close friends. Maybe you feel super connected with your kula and, as a result, enjoy being more expressive and sharing your thoughts and humor with them. just a guess. We all shift from introversion to extroversion, as Carl Jung says "no one can be 100% one or the other." :)

      • Rogelio says:

        i agree with your assessment, plus yoga has the power to help us overcome certain tendencies, and i have met people in yoga classes that have helped me come out of my shell, and then of course go back in when i leave…
        Duncan thanks for putting into words how i am…..it has been a challenge for me in most endeavors including teaching yoga, but that was the easiest because i loved sharing yoga with students….

  3. Regina says:

    THANK YOU. In the midst of my 200hr RYT teacher training, I had an absolute breakdown triggered by a well-meant critique from a great, very well-known and respected, and extremely extroverted teacher. He simply said "I can't hear you. The people in the back of the room can't hear you. You have something to share who would want to miss that?" and I…just…lost it. I really thought for awhile that my introversion meant I wasn't going to be a good teacher, wondered why when I did start teaching I just felt so raw afterward, that I had to strain my gentle voice to know that people will hear me in every posture, that for the entire day before and after class I didn't want to talk or even do anything other then prep for class – or do everything but prep for class so that I wouldn't trip over my words in the mirror and get nervous about saying them to a room full of people. The mere idea of promoting myself to the extent of the most popular and outwardly successful teachers in the Bay Area exhausts me. I don't want to make flyers of myself in spandex and plug into 7 different social networks to build up a clientele – I thought the whole point of this was to plug in to the divine and universal consciousness? Send out good positive vibes and let things happen with a little bit of magic? I also thought about how the teachers you've described were my favorites ( the ones just bubbling over with enthusiasm and ass-kicking ) and how in the world would I ever be like them to do this for a living? That as much as I would love to teach, I'm too sensitive, too empathic (it's amazing to me how many times I will place my hand on a shoulder or hip or area of a spine and the person immediately turns to me with a story about a past or present injury there), too 'quiet' to be a good yoga teacher. Yet my classes have been described to me as peaceful, lovely, rejuvenating, exactly what's needed, nice, relaxing, and soothing. And yeah – who would want to miss that? :-)

    The extroverts I trust do coax me out of my solitude. I know it is always there for me to return to when I need it, and that glimpse of an entirely different way of being is refreshing. But thank you for reminding me things are exactly as they are meant to be. That we are exactly as we are meant to be. Namaste.

    • Regina! What a beautiful story! Thank you so much for taking the time to share and speak so candidly. I just loved reading your comment and it gave me so much joy and inspiration. Rock on!!- from one introvert to the other ! :)

  4. This is beautiful, Duncan! I tend to be more extroverted, but have a few people I love dearly who are introverts…and it's something I appreciate about them. The empathy, especially, I find to be true.

  5. lindamarija says:

    Duncan, This is an absolutely beautiful article and one to which I can relate.Thank you for sharing these sensitive words. I am definitely looking up the book you mentioned ("Quiet"). I'd like to share another quote that goes with this theme. It is one I have on my fridge. It's by Audrey Hepburn (don't you just love her?) and it says "I have to be alone often. I'd be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That's how I refuel." The photo that goes along with it is of Audrey lounging comfortably on a couch with her books. Pure bliss! I'll be looking for more of your writing. In gratitude,

  6. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  7. manorama says:

    Love it! Thanks for sharing. I am naturally an introvert. Several chapters in my life I acted more like an extrovert b/c I needed to, but when I didn't need to, went back in to my introverted self. Becoming a yoga teacher has given me so much more real confidence that I've realized what an artificial confidence I had during my "extroverted" days. And in fact, taking yoga classes or teaching them are pretty much the only social things I do! Thanks again for the article! I'm going to share :)

  8. meredithjpotter says:

    Thank you for the reminder. I have worked to develop more extroverted tendencies in order to survive in our world. It's so good to be reminded and hear your voice on introversion and the good qualities we as introverts have to offer. I don't have a choice that I need tons of alone time to refuel, and have at times felt something was wrong with that. It's good to come back to acceptance with my introversion, and embrace it!

    Muchas gratitude.

    • Awwe thanks for the nice comment meredith! I would suggest reading Susan Cain's book: Quiet… the whole thing is a reminder of just how good it is to be introverted! have a great day! :)

  9. jon says:

    just wanted to say hi… you rock duncan!

  10. from one introvert to another, thank you. :)

  11. Matt D says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Adds some very helpful balance to recent reflections

  12. Andrea Townsend says:

    Great post, I was just talking about this with friends, one asked, "How is it that you can be so out-going but really actually introverted?" I answered, Exhausting! (With a smile of course!) Thanks!

  13. Tomasz Goetel [Hot Yoga] says:

    "Use your introversion to inspire, build, heal and create"… You must be joking? I appreciate the indea that other introverts may relate very well to what is written here. However, an introverted yoga teacher… Not my cup of tea! To be a teacher is to be a guide to people, and if there is one requirement, it would be to love interacting with others! And if your voice does not fill the room – well, you might be better suited for another kind of work, than teaching yoga classes. Offer psychotherapy sessions, or lead an "introvert circle" or something… So to sum up: An introverted yoga teacher? Thanks, but no, thanks!

  14. cathywaveyoga says:

    Excellent article.
    I wish to point out that there is a difference between beign an introvert and speaking loudly enough in class as a teacher to have students be able to hear. An introvert may have to put some work into their volume development ( diaphragm, releasing) however, we all put work into our teaching skills in one way or another.. some put a lot of work into developing postures, strength, poses, learning sanskrit, more studies.. becoming a yoga teacher takes training and self reflection as well as improvement. For us all.

  15. Great article Duncan, thank you! Truly beautiful. You've helped me to recommit to the introvert beneath all of the extrovert layers!

  16. Melissa Milbury says:

    Thank you for writing this article!!! Huge sigh of relief over here! I just started teaching, I'm a new teacher… and teaching in a small town! I've felt like a failure for the past few weeks because I thought just maybe I could be like those extroverted yoga teachers you talk about in this article, all bubbly etc. But it's just not me. I'm a very happy person, and so friendly… but incredibly introverted and a little shy. Okay a lot shy! :)
    Thanks for this, it inspires me to keep going, and I hope that my students take something positive away from the class, and I will relax in the acceptance of myself, just as I am.
    Melissa

  17. emily says:

    I LOVE this article! Love, love, love. I feel like I’ve been coming into my own as an introvert for the past few months. I always felt like I needed to try really hard to break out of that shell, and I’m only just now learning that I can be an introvert and still be happy & whole. And I LOVE to hear someone else say it.

    I love and admire my extroverted yoga teachers, but it’s the introverted ones who make me feel deeply comfortable and at peace in class. That’s an amazing gift to give.

    I also love that the yoga studio has turned into a safe place for me–somewhere that I’m comfortable talking to people and rarely exhausted by it. It’s a unique environment because 1. I see the same people over and over and 2. most of our time together, we are required NOT to talk. IDEAL! I can slowly get comfortable with people, and I’ve made many friends at the studio over time. Yet another gift from yoga :)

    • Lindsay says:

      You hit the nail on the head Emily! I feel the same way exactly. It's a relief to know I don't have to keep up a conversation the entire time I'm in class. It's perfect for me because I also make friends s l o w l y….. I love connecting with people, but for me it takes time. I want to know it's a sincere interaction, not just mindless chatter. Good to know there's so many of us very lovable introverts out there. Peace to you.

  18. Lola says:

    From one introvert to another, THANK YOU! I'm a teacher too, and the whole "network/meet people/social network/spread your word" part of expanding my reach as a teacher has been fraught with anxiety. I too turn down invites to dinner or lunch. The phone rings and 9 out of 10 times I won't answer it because my energy is too worn down from a day of work and I just…can't. I need that time to reconnect to myself.

    Some weekends, if I'm not particularly busy, I love not speaking for 48 hours. I remember in my early days, attending class at Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center in NYC, one of the ideas we were introduced to was QUIET, that observing quiet was an important part of sadhana. That early validation was very significant: it made me feel I had found a natural place for myself…in yoga.

    I find that while teaching I have a lot to say. I feel I am channeling information from my own experience, my teachers, my teachers' teachers. I sometimes surprise myself, like wow, did I really say that? But those flashes where I feel I've contributed something really juicy in my teaching are in direct correlation to how much time, space, and quiet I've given myself to thoroughly digest and experience the things I'm talking about. In this respect (well, in many), I love being an introvert because I feel everything has been thru a very rigorous review process in the quiet laboratory of my mind, soul and body. What comes out only comes out after it's been put thru the sieve of my awareness.

    Extroverts fascinate and inspire me too, but I can't deny who and what I am. Thank you so much for this piece. Namaste.

  19. Tia Ukpe says:

    Thanks Duncan for a beautiful article :) I too identify as an introvert and actually married an extrovert. As a teacher, I too have felt that I needed to be ore vocal, more interesting or charismatic in order for yoga students to like me. In a way, I found it exhausting, like I was performing and sometimes, even disappointed when that eloquent statement I tried to make didn’t come out right. I seemed to always have a need to fill up the quiet space because I thought that was the students were expecting of me. Even being an entrepreneur/independent contractor seems to require being an extrovert as well always having to promote and put yourself out there. Earlier this week, I have finally just admitted to myself that that is not where I am right now and may never be.

    I agree that there is probably much more wisdom that can be found in the silence allowing a student to be with their body and allow whatever comes up for them to express itself instead of me telling them what they should be feeling. I know that I will never be like some of the yoga teachers I admire, but will just continue to do my best, use my gifts and serve the way that I know how.

  20. Sheri McCord sherimccord says:

    Aw, I was so happy to read your article. I'm painfully shy and sensitive, but I've been "faking" extroversion for most of my adult life. I had straight As in school but the "does not participate in class discussion" box was always checked, which made me so angry! I was listening! Thank you.

  21. Emily Mountjoy says:

    Duncan!

    What a great article, thanks for writing it!

    I’m on a bus right now, and although there is wifi, the signal comes and goes. I already had this article opened on my computer because i’ve been wanting to read it but haven’t had a chance… until now. I’m on the bus with my friend and I’ve already told her all about how cool you are, so I read it out loud to her (and to anyone else who knows english that is sitting within ear-shot).

    All through the first part of the article, I kept breaking into my own commentary to say “really?” and then I read the bolded sentence “and as some of you read this, you will probably think “Wow, this is not the yoga teacher or the friend I know”, which made me chuckle.

    Then as I continued reading about the traits of introverted people, I realized the the style you teach yoga is the way it was introduced to me, and the way that I love it. I’ve been to some yoga classes where the teacher was extremely extroverted to the point that I was unable to focus on myself; which made me feel like I wasn’t doing yoga, I was just performing the moves. I do realize now that there are many different forms of yoga (but you will always be one of my favourite teachers!)

    I love who you are Duncan. I always will.

    Besos

  22. Tara says:

    Thank you, great article so well written. Makes me kind of proud to be an Intro ;)

  23. [...] The Power of Introverted Yoga Teachers. ~ Duncan Parviainen [...]

  24. AlexandraL says:

    Silence is golden..everything else is just a distraction

  25. Rick says:

    Amen my friend. Often I'm in yoga class thinking…fewer words please.

  26. Livia says:

    Thank you! This article reminds me, that sometimes I'm trying too hard to be that extrovert person, because like you I was taught that it is the thing to do, to be successful, but this isn't true. As I love extroverts people, sometimes I prefer to be surrounded by introverts people as they remind me, that we don't have to say much, to be or to have fun… Most of the time it's ''air'' word, just to fullfil the silence because few feel uncomfortable in these moment.
    Thank you for reminding me this!

  27. Piantina says:

    Thanks God for this article. Thank you so much for sharing this, it is already inspiring new things in me. I always thought I couldn't teach despite my knowledge and big love of yoga, because I'm just "not that person". I will look at it differently now, and give myself a chance. Not to force myself into someone different, but accept and show my true "me". It's what yoga is about in the end, isn't it? Much love, namaste.

  28. Amen brother. I also read Susan Cain's book, and I felt that it liberated me to see the many ways in which I was not "wrong," but that I had subconsciously learned an imbalanced perspective over time, through media and current societal norms. I feel that in the spiritual world, especially, it's easy for us all to get caught in the extraverted persona so that others know how spiritually "together" we are rather than simply being authentic and showing parts of ourselves that, while certainly are not wrong, are often interpreted as inferior by others.

    The perspective you have shared is so important. ^_^ Thank you. What a refreshing read.

  29. Aella says:

    Thank You!!!

  30. [...] sometimes describe myself as an outgoing introvert. When I feel comfortable in an environment, I don’t shut up. I’ll annoy you until you hate me. [...]

  31. Lauren says:

    I had a similar revelation from Susan Cain…I thought I was depressed and antisocial. When I read her book, I realized I was just an introvert. Once I began doing the things I knew would recharge me – actually caring for myself rather than forcing myself into a mold that just didn't fit – I became happier.

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