January 16, 2017

Teaching Yoga: The Practice, Not The Perfect.

The other night, I taught my first vinyasa group class in years.

The night before, I tried to shake off my nervousness. I have been a teacher for eight years and yet there it was—nervousness. Apparently, it isn’t just yoga that is a practice, it is yoga teaching, too. 

I prepared to squash my doubts by reviewing my plan and taking myself into a quiet space. I arrived at the small studio, comforted by the fact that I would probably only have a few people to teach.

The room filled. My voice got uncertain.

 Breathe in, lift up, breathe out, fold in.

It had been a long time since I had cued such quick movement not feeling centered. If I were being honest, I even felt shy, which is not an emotion my extraverted self likes to feel. It took me by surprise and I was confused. It wasn’t that I hadn’t taught at all in the last couple of years.

After a big move from Canada to the U.S., I eased into classes that reflected my personal practice: Hatha, Yin and Restorative. I taught a senior’s yoga class. I led prenatal retreats and teacher trainings. However, it had been awhile since I had gotten back into the popular Vinyasa bandwagon. Yoga—for me—had become subtler and less direct. I had slowed down and my practice had followed me.

When I was asked to teach a vinyasa class, my first inclination was to say, “Heck, nothat’s not where I’m at! That’s not who I am.”

I felt immediately uncomfortable, but soon after, I remembered how important it was for me to explore the feelings of being uncomfortable rather than escape them. So I said “yes” to a regular class, even though a part of me—a big part—was suggesting that my time would be much better spent with a cup of tea and my cats.

“Do it anyway,” my inner self encouraged.  

“Acknowledge that fear, respect that fear, but don’t yield to it.”

“This could be awkward.”—but I’d already said yes. 

One of the many things I have learned from my years of yoga teaching is that how you feel the class goes is not always how the students feel the class goes.

I am sure this is also true for all teaching, outside of the yoga umbrella. I might have been disappointed in my ability to offer modifications for the advanced students. I might have been mad at myself for failing to cue crow: however, they might have had a fine old time. Why? Because they weren’t judging me as harshly as I was judging myself.

Yet, here I was, reverting to a pattern of reviewing one moment in my week that likely all of those students had forgotten about and it completely took me by surprise.

Then it hit me: Guess what? We yoga teachers are human too.

As spiritual teachers, the number one job we have is to take care of ourselves. If this fails, the energy of our class suffer. If we forget to take time for ourselves to breathe and learn, we are just spurting a lot of “BS” rather than wisdom.

The second thing  we need to do is to keep our students safe. We need to be aware of what can be done and can’t be done and not be afraid of repeating ourselves 20 times.

Finally, we have a responsibility to show up and be present. To see who is in the room and to offer props and to, frankly, just be nice to a bunch of people who may have had a bad week.

Making the class interesting is gravy. People find things interesting in their own bodies when our classes haven’t even mentioned the point of interest. Students tune us out and get into their sensations or their breath or even what they are making for dinner that night.

How the experience feels in the teacher’s body and words may not translate at all. Sometimes I have said nothing and my students have thanked me for offering them silence.

As a teacher, I am always trying to remember that yoga teaching is my second practice, first being my own yoga practice. As a teacher, I try to show up and be better and offer myself to the students—sometimes this results in a blissful class—other times my music doesn’t cue properly or I forget right from left and I feel like beginner myself.

Another day is upon me, and I have just finished meditating—and one thing I know is that I will keep showing up no matter I see myself as an excellent teacher or as a fumbling work in progress who loves what she does for a living.

I know, that this is all I can do: practice.


Author: Courtney Sunday

Image: FlickrAlenka Getman

Editor: Deb Jarrett

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