June 29, 2016

Young Yoga Teachers: We are Missing Something Important.

yoga intention meditate outdoors girl

For as long as I can remember, I have always been the youngest yogini around: youngest student, youngest trainee, youngest teacher.

I was on the yoga bandwagon about one year before it became trendy, and by the time it did, I thought myself lucky. I was a legal instructor before I could legally drink, and in a world where everyone seemed to be getting certified, I was ahead of the game. Or so I thought.

While I’m still the youngest at my studio, I’m starting to notice the age gap slowly closing. Not because I’m getting older, but because the trainees are getting younger. What does this mean for our profession? What does this mean for our teaching? What does this mean for our students?

I’m not going to lie, all of my favorite teachers are older than me. They have been practicing for over a decade, and there is a quiet competence in their instruction. I haven’t stumbled upon many young instructors who are as intelligently submersed in the practice. When my students come to me after class asking about handstand or that recurring pain in their left kneecap, I send them to my teachers—older, wiser, more experienced—people who I trust to give a good, solid answer.

Why am I not giving these answers myself?

I suppose some part of me still believes that I’m an amateur yoga teacher. I am asked to create safe spaces for personal growth while I am still growing and shaping myself. I have a strong, ever-changing practice that honors my age, so I recognize that most of my students—some multiple decades older—crave something softer and steadier. Yet I can only teach from where I am, and right now that means handstand hops and plank walks and candlestick dips.

It was my first teacher—older and wiser—who believed my youth to be my greatest advantage. She told me there is an energy within young teachers that cannot be faked. We appear instantly relatable and perceptive. We sit up there with our hearts cracked wide open and a myriad of insecurities just beneath the surface, teaching with a wild inhibition engendered simply from our youth.

These trepidations of the unknown, worries that we’re not good enough and aspirations for recognition lead young yoga teachers to turn outward, rather than inward, when doubts or questions arise. When left to our own devices, we turn to friends and colleagues for advice, rather than turning inward to our own practice. Yet here is where young yoga teachers have the power to set ourselves apart: like our teachers, we have the capacity to turn inward, and the more we do, the better our teaching will become. Svadhyaya (self-study) doesn’t come from age or experience, but through passionate dedication to the practice.

This is, of course, is where we all started. We recognized that there is something happening within the yogic practice that brings us closer to ourselves. But the young yoga teachers of today, armed with our 200-RYTs, have been unleashed into a world filled with easy distractions such as Instafame competitions, ClassPass reviews and pay-per-head classes.

Suddenly, what first brought us to our mats has been replaced with an anxious, obsessive desire to be noticed.

We watch other teachers sell out workshops and retreats, and we cling to the idea that we are only a few years away from a similar stardom. But we’re not. And we shouldn’t be.

As this industry becomes increasingly competitive—pressuring us to focus outward on time slots and brand ambassadors and magazine reviews—what we need more than ever is an influx of passionate, young teachers dedicated to Svadhyaya—the practice of facing in. This means taking the time to meditate, understanding the yogic texts, studying human anatomy and embracing constructive feedback. We must keep showing up, time and time again, with that same energy and enthusiasm that brought us here in the first place—the commitment to personal growth.

As more and more young yogis get certified, we can either promote ourselves or promote the practice. We can shine briefly and burn out quickly, or we can stick around for the long haul, staying curious and malleable, willing to change and grow with our age—constantly reading and absorbing new information—but continuously rooted in the reasons why we came.

This is my intention.

We are part of a large industry with only a little influence, but we have the capacity to inspire genuine connection and growth. What makes us special is that we don’t have all the answers; our classes are accessible, energetic and changing. We must embrace our youthful insecurity, using it for growth, staying vulnerable and relatable as we become the older, wiser, mentors of the future.


Author: Kendall Berents 

Image: Indiska/Flickr

Editors: Sara Kärpänen; Yoli Ramazzina            

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