October 3, 2013

5 Spiritual Lessons Yoga Teachers Still Need to Learn.

I realize my intro, “spiritual lessons yoga teachers still need to learn” sounds as if I think I am more enlightened than everyone else. Trust me, that is not the case.

I am the most flawed person I know, and I am also a yoga teacher. As such, I have a little insight into flawed people in general and flawed Yoga teachers in particular.

Before everyone starts flapping their arms around and saying I shouldn’t be teaching if I still have issues, spare me. We all have issues. We all have lessons to learn. Some of the best lessons come from the people with the biggest issues.

So here is some of the stuff I notice yoga teachers struggle with a lot.

1) It doesn’t matter how many people come to your class.

If you are a teacher who has absolutely no reaction to teaching one person in your class over and over again, despite your belief and hope that you are offering your best possible effort, then you are a better teacher than me.

Obviously there are a million factors besides you that can keep a class empty: bad advertising, bad timing and bad weather to name a few. And maybe you are a sucky teacher and that is the real reason no one is showing up.

But none of those things should bother you, even your potential suckiness, if you are sincerely trying your hardest. You can wonder, why is this happening—am I doing something poorly that I could be doing differently—but you should never fall into the “I suck” trap based on the number of bodies in a room. That’s ego. No good.

2) It’s okay to make mistakes.

We teachers are awfully hard on ourselves. We are deemed, and strive to be, legitimate authorities on this ancient practice of yoga. So when when we align someone and see that we’ve clearly done it badly and the student is more confused and off balance than before we intruded, we feel horrible.

When we spend our morning putting together a gorgeous sequence with a focus on heart opening and a kick ass quote to go with it, and then realize halfway through class that we’ve lost our train of thought or it’s not coming together as we envisioned, we feel like we’ve cheated our students.

But guess what? It’s going to happen. And sometimes it’s going to make people mad, or not like you. And your job is to use those times to practice humility (what could I have done better?) or forgiveness, (I am only human and so are my students.)

3) It’s okay to not know the answer.

If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard a yoga teacher B.S. her way through an answer about philosophy or alignment or whatever, I’d have at least a handful of gum balls. Truth be told, I don’t think this happens all that much, but when it does, it’s criminal. A few badly chosen words can lead a student down the wrong path for a very long time, when a simple admission of ignorance would give them an opportunity to seek the answer from someone qualified to give it.

4) We are not competing with other teachers.

Again, ego. But it’s hard to pretend it doesn’t hurt when one person’s 9:30 class is routinely busting at the seems while your 9:30 class is mostly populated with tumbleweeds blowing through.

You don’t know why this is happening. You can grind and grind on all the possible reasons and still never know. Maybe the other teacher is better than you. Maybe she just happens to click with a particular group who likes to have their butts kicked in class, or doesn’t like to have their butts kicked in class.

Don’t let the frustration of not being the “best” teacher or the most “popular” teacher color your outlook in any way. We’re all where we are supposed to be; in empty classrooms, full classrooms, crazy corporate studios or humble po dunk ones.

Your goal is not to be popular or famous, it’s just to spread the good word. And if your goal is to be popular or famous, please stop teaching yoga, get some head shots together and move your ass to Hollywood.

5) The real reason we are teaching is so we can learn.

Teaching is great because it presents so many more opportunities to learn magical things about yoga than simply going to yoga class can. Your immersion in the practice is more complete, you get to spend more time thinking about yoga, studying it, and applying yogic principals to your moment to moment life.

Never forget that the students are the ones teaching you, not the other way around. If you start to feel otherwise, you might want to sit yourself down and have a word.

We yoga teachers have the best job in the world. We are (modestly, in my case) paid for spreading joy, compassion and knowledge. A fringe benefit is that in spreading it, we get to increase the joy, compassion and knowledge in our own lives.

Our only task is to remember what we are teaching and why, and forgive ourselves when we momentarily forget.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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