So, you wanna become a yoga teacher? Congratulations!
First, you will need to have some financial acumen.
For the sake of argument, let’s imagine your subconscious is like a rock concert. Do you know those big burly guys with leather vests and tattoos—the ones who prevent people, bottles, rotten tomatoes and underpants from landing on stage? Let’s call them the crowd control of the mind.
Get to know them, my friend, as guardians of the synapses of sanity; you will need them when a situation (or student) pushes your buttons.
1. We yoga teachers are a sensitive and empathetic lot; this is both our strength and our weakness.
Class isn’t about you, Mr. or Mrs. Yoga-Teaching Hotshot. Repeat: It’s not about you.
Boundaries can be a tricky issue for many yoga teachers. Like other helping professionals, we often possess a certain empathetic and sensitive nature. In our personal lives, we often find ourselves in the position of trusted confidante for friends in need, sometimes absorbing and processing a large amount of pain.
Our empathetic nature can run amok without proper boundaries. Of course, we must be careful about socializing with students out of class. We must also get over ourselves in the classroom.
Over-controlling is, after all, the shadow side of empathy.
“When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” And not before.
2. Everybody has a preconceived notion of who you, as a yoga teacher, should be.
Know who you are—or please be willing to find out. Take your own journey. Don’t rely on Yoga, Inc. to tell you how to be—there are more than enough spandex-clad, platitude-spouting cookie cutouts. Your students deserve a warrior. Be willing to give them one.
Do any of these sound familiar: always happy, joyful, well-rested, well-nourished, well-coiffed, slim and toned, showered and punctual, especially when dealing with difficult students?
To this list I will add: always eats organic, rises before sunrise, has a personal practice totaling no less than three hours daily, handles all personal relationships with the grace and agility of a canonized saint.
(Believe it and I’ll show you a few unicorns and leprechauns ambling across the clearing out yonder.)
Yoga is not about perfection. Yoga is an ever-evolving journey towards authenticity. This was true 5,000 years ago; it is true today. The journey is not easy. It is, however, absolutely necessary, especially for the serious teacher. You owe it to yourself (and your students) to undertake your own yoga journey, during which you will embrace the gamut of human emotions—bliss and joy, yes—but also fear, resentment and anger.
Sometimes, we learn more from the tough stuff than the easy stuff.
Set your boundary. Shut out that yoga world chatter that says life is like a $3.99 Whole Foods inspirational postcard. You don’t need to always be happy and be smiling and posting that stuff on your Facebook wall (so people will think you’re all spiritual and shit) to be a good yoga teacher (or yoga student).
Maybe you’re a yoga student and the chatty apres-yoga clatch isn’t your thing; maybe it doesn’t feel authentic to you. So what?
Maybe your practice has, of late, been stirring up some serious stuff. Thank your lucky stars! Those people quoted on those cards? Life stirred some serious stuff up for them, too, and they had the cajones to dig in a little deeper. Don’t just take the fruits from another’s journey. Use them as guideposts on your own. And while we’re at it…
3. Hey warrior, choose your battles wisely—and practice non-attachment as much as humanly possible. You can’t be everything to everybody; you risk losing yourself.
Choosing boundaries is all about preserving energy. As a yoga teacher, one must make a conscious choice about where he or she wishes to devote energy. This means choosing one’s battles wisely. It is not possible to control all aspects of yoga class. As much as possible, one must prepare appropriately—and then practice non-attachment.
In most cases, a yoga teacher does not know who will show up for class: new beginners, advanced students looking for modifications, students with injuries. Early birds. The fashionably late. Those looking to be energized. Those looking to be restored.
Do not be attached to any particular experience.
The physical classroom may present obstacles. There may be malfunctioning heating and cooling systems. There are street noises. Work around them.
I once taught a lunchtime yoga class in a fitness facility where the practice room bordered the free weights section. Every week, without fail, I would ease students into savasana. Almost immediately, the grunting and groaning would begin from the free weights section.
Come on! Come on! One more!
In retrospect, it now seems quite funny. We must co-exist peacefully…which brings me to…
The Universe has designed, for our amusement, many variations on the human being.
Some students have lovely dispositions; they are always looking for yoga advice or an adjustment. Other students make Attila the Hun look like Mother Theresa. They are cranky, irritable and dissolute. They want to be left the hell alone. A teacher does not and cannot know what makes every student tick or what he or she has experienced in life. Try not to judge. We all have our Attila moments.
All we can know: your students are on their mats hoping yoga will ease the physical and psychic pain that comes with being a human.
It has been my experience that a great many yoga teachers possess a great many likable qualities—but we are not here to make people ‘like’ us, per se. We cannot control another’s emotional terrain.
A yoga teacher is responsible to lead students safely through practice and to maintain a safe and healthy class atmosphere.
This is hard, hard stuff—especially for perfectionist teachers. Especially for teachers who want desperately to be friends with each and every single student.
It ain’t gonna happen.
So, that girl in the back row just gave you the stink eye? Maybe she has an eye infection. Or maybe there are reasons beyond your control. Maybe you have curly hair just like her Aunt Gertrude who used to annoy her during the Thanksgiving dinners of her childhood. (The subconscious is a weird thing.) Or maybe she just doesn’t like you—and so what?
5. Sometimes, you’ve gotta be cruel to be kind.
Like a long winter’s thaw, yoga has a way of freeing long-trapped feelings and emotions from our physical body. Certain poses, like hip or shoulder-openers, can potentially release a torrent of painful feelings from a student’s body. This can be difficult to watch. As an empathetic teacher, one must allow the student to work towards his or her edge (safely, of course). There may be joy. There may be tears. Welcome to the journey.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise