December 2, 2013

7 Confessions of a Slightly Insecure Yoga Teacher.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I am a painfully shy person.

I’ve spent years trying to cultivate a public persona which projects the opposite; proud posture, bold words, good eye contact—but the truth is, I’m a shrinking violet, and that daffodil you think you see is an illusion.

When I teach yoga I am at my most vulnerable. My love of the practice, my wish to do it justice, and the room full of faces looking in my direction can be unnerving. I’d like to take this opportunity to confess my isms, perhaps casting them out as the demons they are once and for all.

Well, I doubt that will happen, but it never hurts to tell the truth.

1) I worry that you will hate my music.

As a matter of fact, I saw an article in ej recently which addressed this exact subject.

The author makes the excellent point that music in yoga class can be uplifting, even if it is an unusual choice— perhaps even more so if it is. He also rightly says though, that you can’t please all the people all the time. This is where I get stuck. I don’t want to put on my favorite song by Shiny Toy Guns and have the older ladies in my class suffer through its discordant awesomeness, even if the younger girls get a big smile on their face. So I end up being pretty schizophrenic in my selections, one day playing a whole Sheila Chandra album and the next choosing a playlist featuring The Police, The Cockteau Twins, and Tia Malia.

I realize there are bigger questions in the world than which songs I force you to practice to, but it is your practice, and that is sacred to me—I really don’t want to mess it up.

2) I never want to be a show off.

There is a fine line when teaching yoga between demonstrating poses and showboating in the poses. I try very hard not to cross that line, but will admit that sometimes, I get swept up the lusciousness of being in wild thing or sirsasana (headstand) or astravakrasna (eight angled pose).

In that moment of losing myself, I am also losing my students, and my demo is no longer serving it’s intended purpose. Instead of leading people deeper into their own practice, I am forcing them to observe mine. As soon as I feel this happen, I come out of the pose and start helping my students work on it themselves, but—for however brief a moment, my ego has been running the show.

Fortunately, this only happens rarely because when it does and I am consumed with guilt. It just isn’t fair to mess with peoples heads like that.

3) It’s awful when I can’t give students what they need.

I remember a long time ago, right when I’d just started teaching, I subbed six pre-natal classes in a row for a teacher who was on a retreat. Having been pregnant myself, I assumed I would have a good idea of what these women wanted and needed. I was wrong. It seemed like no matter what I did, these expanding women crackling with ripened energy gazed at me with baleful eyes. I don’t know if they were just uncomfortable or if I was grossly inept or both, but I still feel a wave of sadness when I think of them, knowing that I didn’t serve them well.

I want every student who walks out of my class to feel infused with peace, and though I know that’s not always going to happen, when it doesn’t, I get bummed.

4) Sometimes I run out of material.

Well, I never run out of actual material, but it does get challenging finding new and compelling ways to present it. I mean, after you’ve said the word “gratitude” the 100,000th time, it loses some cachet. And unlike teachers who teach in schools where students move on after nine months, yoga students are often with the same teacher for years and years. While this is wonderful in many ways—we get to feel like family and I develop a profound knowledge of said student’s practice to name two, I do wonder if my tendency to harp on downward facing dog and the dumb thing I always say about comparing our minds to an Etch-a-Sketch that needs to be shaken clean is getting old.

5) I’m afraid I’ll look stupid doing a pose.

For the most part I am over this, but there is nothing quite as humbling as popping into malasana in front of a packed class—your crotch front and center in what you hope are not your sheer Lulu’s but you’re not exactly sure, or trying to demonstrate bird of paradise and not quite getting your leg extended– or worse, falling out of it entirely.

Yoga is full of human moments and much like doctors who must feel embarrassed during certain interactions with their patients but  never let on, yoga teachers too, sometimes battle to maintain their dignity.

6) Occasionally, I just want the class to be over already.

I hate to admit this, but every now and then I sneak a look at the clock and am dismayed to find it’s moved forward a mere three minutes since the last time I looked.

There are a few reasons I get impatient, mostly having to do with my bum back. When it starts to hurt, it’s hard to focus on anything else. But like any of my other personal problems, this should never be my student’s problem, so it stinks when it happens.

7) I can get very irritated with certain students.

Now obviously, every teacher in every class sometimes gets irritated by their students, but it’s my feeling that in a yoga teacher it is inappropriate. We yogis are supposed to embody calm and compassion.

So when people walk in late to class, or don’t wipe down the mats they’re borrowed from the studio, or don’t do the sequence I am instructing, instead going off on their own funky tangent, or walk out before savasana (resting pose), or have their cell phones turned on next to their mat during class, or insist on wearing socks to practice (not toe socks, regular socks), or never ever smile or say thank you, I feel kind of bad that I want to slap them.

Teaching yoga has forced me to routinely confront my fears and deal with my flaws in a way I don’t think anything else ever could, but the fact is, I am just a girl with a 200 hour Yoga Alliance sticker on the back of my car.

Make no mistake, no yoga teacher is impervious to nerves or embarrassment or worry, nor are they necessarily paradigms of virtue. But we all, the vast majority of us as least, have our hearts in the right place, even when we slip a Portishead song into the playlist and or get a bit too excited about showing you handstands.



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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: lululemon athletica

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