June 25, 2017

A Yoga Teacher’s Worst Nightmare: No One Showed Up.

I sat on my mat at the front of an empty room and faced my biggest fear.

It was time for me to teach a Gentle Flow yoga class and no one was there. As I listened to the only sound, a soft om playing through the speakers, I felt the panic rising.

Someone will surely walk in right as class is about to start, I thought. Then 6 p.m. appeared on my clock. No students walked in.

Maybe someone will show up a few minutes late, I thought. But 6:10 p.m. rolled around, and no students walked in.

The experience was both profoundly upsetting and humbling; it was one that resulted in many tears and moments of self-reflection. It was an opportunity for me to witness the complex workings of my inner critic.

Like a record player stuck on a scratch, my thoughts were continuous and repetitive:

>> I’m not a good teacher.
>> The students don’t like my style.
>> The students don’t like me.
>> The students must be talking negatively about my classes.
>> What if I caused someone an injury?
>> What if I said something offensive without realizing it?

And these obsessive thoughts led to obsessive questions:

>> I just started working here! How do I tell the studio owner?
>> Will the studio owner be mad at me?
>> Will I be fired?
>> Should I quit before I’m fired?
>> Will I still be paid for my time?
>> I should be paid for my time, right?

It didn’t stop there: I wondered if maybe my students were stuck in traffic, or they were too tired after a long day at work for the evening class, or they had to work late. Maybe some students just didn’t want to practice that night, or the class just wasn’t the right place to be on a Wednesday evening.

I thought of a million other reasons that could have come up for them. Perhaps it was because of something I said or did during a previous class. My slow flow style isn’t for everyone, and perhaps the students were looking for something different than what I was offering.

It took a while, but eventually I reminded myself that I bring a unique presence to the existing space, and I do have something truly authentic and special to offer. This class offered me the opportunity to choose to not measure my self-worth by the number of students who walk through the door.

I learned that I can hold on to the idea that maybe this is about me, but possibly—and more likely—it is not. Though I’m a “teacher,” perhaps the greatest lesson that evening came from my students, who showed me that self-worth is found on the inside, and that my persona of being the “perfect yoga teacher” could finally slip away.

Maybe the impossible standards that so many of us place on ourselves, especially as yoga teachers, was finally wearing me down. So often, I see yoga teachers wearing the best clothing and teaching a packed studio of students. I was quietly comparing and striving for what others had. Perfectionism was killing me, and on that day, I chose to not let it.

I embraced that I am imperfect and that however many students come to my class does not affect how I feel about myself. I’ll show up to teach again the next week and the week after that.

In the empty yoga studio, my students were still in my heart, so I held my class anyway. I placed my hands over my heart, sent my breath deeply into the warmth at my heart center, and offered metta to those who weren’t in my presence. After I bowed my head and fluttered open my eyes, I simply witnessed the silence of the empty space.

Then, I rolled up my mat, grateful for the wisdom that I am forever a student and a teacher. My soul will not stop teaching and learning because no one showed up.



Author: Joanna Barrett
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social editor: Emily Bartran

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Joanna Barrett Yoga Jun 28, 2017 12:22am

Thanks, James!

James Intermaggio Jun 27, 2017 4:39pm

Spot on, I hear those voices occasionally! Great article!

Joanna Barrett Yoga Jun 27, 2017 2:08am

Thanks for reading, Susan!

Susan Moore Desin Jun 26, 2017 3:43pm

Great article, thank you!

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Joanna Barrett

Joanna Barrett is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200) and therapeutic yoga provider, offering yoga to clients with emotional and physical challenges. Joanna’s experience in holistic wellness and mind-body modalities for healing has led her toward guiding individuals to develop life skills for both personal and professional relationships, and she is focused on helping people reach their full potential for optimal well-being.

Joanna brings with her over 500 hours of yoga training in various styles, primarily in therapeutic yoga and trauma-sensitive yoga. To round out her knowledge, she has a masters degree in mental health counseling from Lesley University, and her career includes the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, Harvard University’s School of Public Health, South Boston Yoga, Healing Tree Yoga and Wellness Center, and community mental health agencies in the Boston area. She is a member of the American Psychological Association, National Counseling Association, International Association of Yoga Therapists, and Yoga Alliance. Catch up with Joanna on her website and Facebook.