When I first started teaching yoga, I had the (now very amusing) illusion that I was going to be Big.
I figured, if I put in the years of dedication—not a problem—I am very driven and can turn on the charm, I’d be swinging to the sweet sounds of yoga superstardom before I knew it.
Today, I have three private students in one class and a Monday night class, which typically draws about nine people. So, on average, I teach 12 people per week.
Not exactly a rock star over here.
Granted, I did have seven private students and four classes a week at one time—but that was before I “crapped up” (as my son would poetically say) my back. Even then, though, the total number of souls I taught still never exceeded, let’s say 80, and that’s only because at one point I was teaching two LA Fitness classes that were busting at the seams since yoga comes free with the membership, for which I was paid a grand total of $20 per class.
80 people, in the grand scheme of things, is less than a drop in the bucket—even if one of those people was Matt Garza of the Cubs, which fact made me seem like a yogalebrity in my son’s eyes.
I realized fairly quickly that I was going to languish in the purgatory which is the fate of so many yoga teachers; the place where you’re doing okay, people like you and you can get some bodies into the studio, but the paparazzi aren’t exactly waiting outside to catch you using your mala to bop your dog on the nose because he won’t stop trying to climb in the front seat of the car with you.
Before my back injury I’ll admit, this state of affairs really frustrated me. I blamed myself. I was too tall, too old, my down dog was an embarrassment, I was too bossy, hard on my students, boring, verbose, overly intellectual, not approachable, not empathetic.
After my back injury, I was just happy I could still teach at all.
And the humility which came with being grateful for leading a single class illuminated something else. That old ego of mine had been running the show. The problem wasn’t that I was old or bossy (though I most certainly am), it was that I was teaching something I wasn’t living.
You shouldn’t preach about gratitude when you’re secretly pissed because only five people showed up to hear your spiel.
I’m sure there are more evolved yogis in the world who can reach the highest heights of notoriety without their ego leading them around by the tail, but I’m equally sure I’m not one of them—at least for now.
Becoming famous, or even mildly successful, would have unraveled all the important work I’ve done; it would’ve placed the emphasis on appearances and numbers. I’ve spent my whole life worrying about those things. Yoga is the one place I’ve learned how to loosen the hold of our culture’s insistence that we look and be a certain way.
I’ve settled into the knowledge that I have to just put one plain wide foot in front of the other. That it’s not about how deep my backbends are, or being on an international back bending tour, but about quiet epiphanies that really only make sense inside my heart.
I doubt I’ll ever be more than a simple local yoga teacher, with a few dedicated students and a non-peak hour class, and I am 100% down with that. I don’t want yoga to bring me fame, I want it to bring me peace.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: elephant journal photo archive