When I started teaching yoga, I had two or three classes a week.
Full of enthusiasm, I was ready to give up my office job in my mind, all I needed to do was add classes and fill my schedule.
But I wasn’t able to.
While I had a few faithful students who clicked with me, I failed to attract any others. In the end, I couldn’t hand in my pass to liberation, the letter of notice I had phrased so nicely in my head, time and time again. Instead, I sat my bum on my office chair for a few more years and kept teaching the students I had.
Growth seemed impossible. And looking back now, many years later, I understand why.
I couldn’t grow my number of students because my teaching was all about me. I was entirely absorbed in my own practice—adding posture after posture to my list, ticking them off like items on the grocery list.
While teaching, I intermittently slipped into instructing and demonstrating postures I felt like doing at that moment. Sequences I did at home, for my personal benefit, seeped into my classes. Postures I didn’t like personally were unconsciously left out, even though they might have benefited my students who had varying body types and preferences.
I was not teaching people.
I was teaching postures that I rated as desirable to attain. Again, I was teaching my postures. If I felt energetic, I taught a more dynamic class. If I felt exhausted, I taught a more restorative class. Of course, I would have denied this then. Heck, I wasn’t even conscious of it. My classes were a mixed bag and while some enjoyed the variety, others were put off because they didn’t receive what was advertised.
Like many new teachers, I suffered from anxiety and insecurity, but my nervousness didn’t stem from being in front of a group, all eyes on me. Instead, it was rooted in my deep (and, oh so wrong) belief that in order to teach, I had to be an advanced yogi.
I felt I didn’t have the right to instruct beginner’s postures—or even teach a gentle class —if I wasn’t able to get that leg behind my head or jump directly into bakasana from down dog, myself.
After all, was this not proof to my students that I was a dedicated yogi? Proof that I took yoga seriously, and was, therefore, a teacher with whom to spend their time and effort?
When students, with a sigh, say they are so sad not to have found yoga earlier in life, I tell them, “Yoga comes to you whenever you are ready.” Now I understand that the same applies to teaching. The gift of teaching is granted when you are ready, curiously enough, not when you’ve finished your teacher training.
Now, my home practice does not influence my teaching, and when I teach, I don’t think of my practice. I am there to teach what the bodies in front of me need, not what mine is asking for. And if I ever master the poses with which I currently struggle—it does not matter. It will not make me a better teacher if I do.
Now, my teaching is not about me anymore.
It’s not about my insecurity, my anxiety, my worries, or my nervousness. My teaching is about the student in front of me. Until focus shifts from self to student occurs, the teaching is flawed.
The teacher is a vessel, only carrying the practice, delivering it. It’s not the teacher who teaches, it is the tradition that should speak to the student. The ego needs to stay in the changing room.
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