October 1, 2010

Why I stopped teaching yoga.

(…so I could have my right brain back.)

I got a marketing email today from the yoga cult company I used to work for, advertising what they call an “Art of Assisting” workshop. The headline encouraged me to “release my inner artist.” It got me thinking. Whenever I hear the words “art” and “yoga” mentioned together, my brain has a synaptic response that causes me to wince.

It’s not that I think art and yoga are mutually exclusive concepts. Quite the opposite, in fact. As far as I’m concerned, yoga—and teaching yoga in particular—is a bona fide right-brained activity. I should know. I used to be an artist, and then I became a yoga teacher.

I taught yoga for about ten years.

To know why I stopped, it’s important to know why I began.  Over the course of my yoga journey I met many people who wanted to be yoga teachers. My own path as a teacher did not begin with that same desire to teach. It began with an arbitrary opportunity.

I loved yoga and practiced every day—sometimes twice a day. I was in that phase of being compulsively in love with yoga—wanting to be better at it, wanting to get somewhere with it, wanting it to get me somewhere. This, of course, changed over the years as I slowly realized that yoga is not a goal-oriented or competitive practice (and as I got lazier, quite frankly). But back then, I was spending as much time as possible in my local yoga studio, and as a consequence, I became friends with the studio owner.

One day, Christina was in a bind and needed a sub, so she asked me if I’d like to try my hand at teaching. NOTE: This was over ten years ago. Yoga Alliance requirements were not a thing, and there weren’t trained and eager teachers every-freaking-where like there are now. So, it was a perfectly acceptable practice for a student with absolutely no credentials whatsoever to jump in and teach a group yoga class, especially if that class was based on a repetitive and standardized dialog.

Being a shy introvert, I was terrified, but with brave yogic attitude I was in the habit of always saying  “yes” to new opportunities. (I have long since abandoned this policy in favor of listening to my intuition and simply not doing things if I don’t feel like it.) So, I said yes. Yes, I would sub that class.

I was terrified, and shaking as I started teaching that day. But, to my surprise, I pulled it off. I felt—dare I say it—GOOD at it. I felt like I had gotten away with something.

So I decided to do it again.  And again.

Years passed. I went to a yoga teacher training. I got “certified.” I went to another teacher training and had “breakdowns” and “breakthroughs” just as instructed. I discovered the teacher who would become my mentor/boss for many years, and started teaching his addictive style of “power” yoga. I quit my day job in the dotcom world. I leaned on my boyfriend financially while following my low-paying teaching path. I started traveling with my teacher here and there, as his occasional assistant, while I taught at another local yoga studio. Eventually, I became a full-time traveling yoga minion and got to go all over to yoga retreats in glamorous places like Playa del Carmen and Hawaii and Illinois. I gave up my life in California and spent nine “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” months in Boston (the winter months, I might add). I built a community out of yoga. I felt like I was really doing something. I felt like I had purpose.

What I didn’t have was art.

Prior to becoming a professional yogi, I considered myself an artist. I had gone to art school and earned a useless but conversationally riveting dual degree in art photography and ceramics. In my early twenties I worked for various photographers and potters (and waitressed, naturally) while trying to figure out how to support myself while making art.  My boyfriends were always artists. I was prone to ongoing messy craft projects and was constantly journaling emotively about all my ideas. I was, in a word, CREATIVE.

But when I began to teach yoga, I stopped making things. There was something about teaching yoga that took my creativity and channeled it into sequencing classes, dreaming up imagery, constantly learning more, growing more, focusing 100% on yoga not just as an asana practice but as a lifestyle. Through this, I expressed my creative side so fully that I stopped making any other art. Teaching yoga took my right brain hostage, in a way. It was fulfilling—but also, draining. I was exhausted most of the time.  I didn’t have anything left for my inner artist.

I believe that teaching yoga as a mode of creative expression is indeed a fine and noble path, but for me, there was something missing. I felt the absence of my prior forms of artistic expression. I missed drawing, writing, and playing with clay… but I lacked the energy to bother with it. I felt sad.

And then one day, a friend convinced me to take a community pottery class. I hadn’t touched clay in years.  And as soon as I did, I knew: I needed to stop teaching yoga and get back to my creative roots. Gradually I started dropping classes. I whittled my teaching schedule down to one class and started working on the management side of yoga studios. That felt good. Eventually, I stopped teaching altogether. And at some point, I realized that I needed a clean break not just from teaching, but from the entire yoga industry. Now, I hardly ever even practice.

But I do write. And make things with my hands. And garden. And dream up new projects constantly. In fact, my next project is going to be to build out this web site: www.recoveringyogi.com. (Don’t bother going there now, though, as you’ll just end up in an infinite loop of clicking.)

I’m glad I spent roughly ten years working in the yoga industry. I had so many rich experiences that informed my own growth and my ability to now write clearly and without fear. I feel that moving on from teaching yoga to writing has been a progression of my own path as a lifelong student of art and creativity.

I think if I had been the sort of teacher who felt driven to teach, compelled by a divine force, sought out by a calling, well, I would still be teaching yoga today. But I am not a yoga teacher. I’m an artist. I think we are all artists, in fact. It’s just a matter of what medium one chooses to express their creative force. For me, that medium is words, not asana.

And when it comes to “releasing my inner artist,” I’m glad I finally realized that it wasn’t going to happen in a yoga workshop.

Brilliant illustration uptop by my very talented friend Vanessa Fiola
(who, at this point, probably does not want to be associated with me and
my incendiary P.O.Vs, but who is, unfortunately for her, stuck with me as a
bestie for life): www.vanessafiola.com
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