March 21, 2016

The One Thing about Growth that Yoga Teachers Must Understand.

yoga rave class

Spiritual and mindful growth isn’t always fun.

In truth—and we don’t like to advertise this—growth is quite painful.

We’re not going to always like our yoga class, or our yoga teacher for that matter. Most of the time I can see my students are not too fond of me. And I understand, I’m asking them to do something difficult—I’m asking them to be where they are, be okay with that, and most importantly to stay there, tuned in.

I also give them permission to dislike me—I remind them it’s okay, that I will still love them. I’ve been where they are, and most of the time it sucks, but it pays off in the end because growth happens.

In order to grow, we must let go. Let go of limiting self-talk, negative thinking, past experiences that hold us back. It means letting go of the wall we have built around us and being open to whatever is on the other side. It means being okay even when everything is not okay. It means sitting in this moment that might not feel so great and listening, observing, and learning. Over and over again.

The other day I had a new student come to one of my classes. After the class had ended, I went over to see how she felt, if she had any questions or concerns, the usual questions when someone new comes to my classes. She smiled and told me she came to yoga because she needed to, but in all honestly she didn’t like yoga. In my mind I thought, well who likes yoga when they begin to practice? It’s like volunteering to look in the mirror for an hour and half and go over the ways you short-changed yourself your whole life. It’s opening up every wound and looking inside each and every time we get deeper into our practice.

But after awhile we learn to forgive ourselves for all the ways we may not have lived up to our fullest potential in the past, how we silenced ourselves with numbing sounds of televisions, mindless conversations, endless scrolling down our Facebook feeds. We learn, we get better at this “living authentically” thing, then we start to really love our practice because it reminds us of how far we have come, of how much more we can do, of who we are and how great it is to be free of the walls that inhibited our growth.

So, when I heard this I smiled and let it roll off my back. I’ve gotten good at that, for the most part. But just like students’ growth isn’t easy, my growth as a teacher has not been easy either. I’ve gotten better at accepting where I am and who I am as a teacher, but getting to that place took some time. In the past, I wished I could be the lovey-dovey yoga teacher who flows through the room in a sing-song voice, but it’s not me, and one thing I have learned in my short time teaching is this: when you are not authentic teaching yoga, not only does what you want to say come out all wrong, but worse still your students will know, and it feels icky.

I have had some of those icky experiences as a student of yoga and as a teacher. Both experiences led me to understand that in order to grow, we first must be okay with where we are in this moment. Since then I have come to terms with the teacher I am. My love for my students and for yoga is a tough love. I don’t ever let my students give up on themselves, because that’s authentically who I am. I am brutally honest, but only because I want you, as my student, to experience just how great being you can be. I am extremely passionate about yoga. And while I will not be the teacher who will tell you to “expand your light,” I will help you find you passion through your practice.

But I don’t write this as an enlightened yoga teacher who has no more growth in her future. No. There are still moments that present themselves as I teach. Moments that, as a teacher, I wish wouldn’t happen. Moments that, after the fact, I realize are a part of my growth.

You see, I have a recurring kind of student, a joke played by the universe to push my buttons. The kind of student who makes excuses, excuses over excuses. Even when I give modifications they stick to their excuses. And this, this throws me off balance. It is most definitely not the student’s fault. In fact, the student is perfect—they are being authentic to who they are in that moment. So, this student becomes my teacher, because I do not know how to deal with excuses. Do you see where this is going? Growth is happening. I’ve been that student. When I started practicing yoga it was so out of my comfort zone that all I had were excuses. For the first time in my life I couldn’t do almost everything asked of me. And so, I excused it.

One of the most important lessons I learned from my first teacher training was that, as yoga teachers, we must respect where people are in their journey. Our teacher didn’t stop there—his lesson was not just for when we were teaching, because yoga isn’t only on the yoga mat. It was for our lives, for all of those times we judged others, for all of those times we swore that yoga would help them.

People are only ready to hear you when they are ready to sit with where they are and listen. Until then, you walk beside them waiting for that moment patiently with compassion, understanding, and respect.

On that note, I have come to realize another person we should be waiting for is ourselves. You see, accepting the kind of yoga teacher that I am took a lot of work. That is where my growth happened. The student’s excuses are there because that’s where the student is. In my journey, their excuses are my lessons. I need to walk with the student and speak to them patiently, with compassion, understanding, and respect. Why is this difficult for me? Because I see how great they can be. I see their strength and it hurts me that they hurt themselves with these excuses. I know what those excuses are, they are the all too familiar chant we have all dealt with: I can’t.

But my growth doesn’t come from fighting with this chant I hear from my student. Instead, my growth comes from learning to sit there with them in their journey and to see myself in them. To remember and to speak the truth that I now know: that we all can.

My growth and my journey are these students. To learn. To see myself in them. To battle through the process because it isn’t an easy one. Staring your insecurities in the face almost every day is not fun. But here’s the thing, these students, they keep coming back. And that—that is strength. That is what lies beneath the excuses.

Up until this moment, I left classes where a student gave me excuses thinking I had failed them. I hadn’t done my job. What I didn’t see that I was doing my job just right. I was there. Not just as a teacher but as a student as well. Yoga, just like life, is not about the destination, but all about the journey. Each setback, each fall, each time we think we have failed is as important as any other moment.

It took a little time for me to see the teacher and hear what they were saying, but now I see. I needed to see myself in those students, and not allow my feelings to throw me off balance, but to acknowledge that this too was a part of their process. That this too was a part of the process in my journey. Its time I acknowledged this in myself, so I can help students see it in themselves as well.

Maybe if I radiated it love? Nah, just kidding, I’ll still be a hard*ss teacher with a little more understanding and clearer view of my own journey into yoga. Because, and here is the lovey-dovey part, we are all in this together—teaching each other. Seeing our flaws radiated back to us from each other.

Instead of reacting, we must learn to listen, because none of this is coincidence. There is a deeper lesson here and because I love yoga, and because I never give up, I will continue to show up even when it hurts to look in that mirror.

And man I hope I am there when your eyes and mind and heart open to the brilliance that you are because that is an amazing moment—that is why I teach.


Author: Maria Sophia

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Tucker Sherman/Flickr

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