It was summertime on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand.
I was immersed in a scorching hot teacher training for 30 days straight.
It was about a 105 degrees outside and 105 degrees in.
Talk about throwing yourself in the fire.
During the first “dialogue” exercise and learning to teach, I bawled my eyes out in front of 33 other trainees from around the globe. We sweat buckets with daily practice from early morning to late evening. It was a rigorous schedule that pushed the limits of not only our bodies, but our minds.
We had embarked on the journey of finding our true voices. This entails shining a bright light on all those things we all desperately try to hide.
What’s the big deal about teaching a yoga class? How hard can it be?
Well, for starters, it asks you to get honest with yourself in front of an audience. No filters here. No making it perfect for social media.
Finding your voice, whether teaching it out loud, writing a book, or through the myriad of other ways to stretch our creative muscles, seems to bring up the same stuff. Whether it be jitters, butterflies, or a full-on internal shredding of any confidence we might have, taking steps outside our comfort zone can bring up the inner voice that is not our personal cheerleader.
While teaching yoga can be immensely rewarding, it can also be one of the more frightening jobs out there.
It is not a performance (although, I see that a lot). It is not reading from a script (I see that a lot, too). It’s definitely not trying to be like your favorite teacher.
It’s you. And no, it’s not about you.
Sure, there’s going to be some natural nervousness. But to be a genuine yoga teacher, it requires not only a vast amount of knowledge, but authenticity. You gotta just be you, as you are, warts and all.
It’s like getting on a horse. If you are afraid or not sure, the horse is gonna throw you off in a second. Trust me, I know. I have been thrown.
And great news: being bucked is a wonderful way to learn.
Back in the heat of the jungle in Thailand, my first day of training did not go well. It didn’t go at all since I couldn’t get a word out past my blubbering. As my peers and teachers observed me have an absolute meltdown, my internal voice was whispering, “Who is going to listen to what I have to say? Why would they want to?” I was completely unnerved and unraveled.
Well, somehow I got past it. The studies and physical practice came easier.
But speaking it? Out loud? In front of live humans? Not so much.
Cut to opening my own studio after a few more years of trainings, and somehow, I’ve obviously managed to get some words out and am now in the director seat of teacher programs. Many students have attended these and cried much like I did. Oh, how I empathize with these moments and the steps in getting to know yourself. Like me, they never believe they will get through it.
But we all do. Maybe some of it was not a pretty process, but what transformation is? Why do we expect things to be easy and neat? Has anything lasting or worthwhile come without challenges?
I remember, as a child, riding my cherry red two-wheeler for the first time and wiping out. I still have the scar on my right elbow. How many of us got on and rode perfectly the first time? The 10th time?
So here I sit, dipping a toe into uncharted waters and trying my hand at writing. It’s a dream that I have had for a long time. And while I am not crying (not yet, anyway), the same kinds of feelings are popping up from that first day of teaching. “Why would people want to hear what I say? Why would they want to?” Yeesh, there is that cheerleader of drama and self-doubt.
“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” ~ Steven Pressfield
A fellow teacher trainer shared a jewel with me. She named her confidence-killing voice “Brenda.” Whenever this voice reared its ugly head, raising all kinds of havoc and self-doubt, she simply says:
F*ck you, Brenda.
We have all met Brenda at one time or another. She’s loud, obnoxious, and will do anything to squash our true voice.
Whether we are teaching, writing, singing, painting, or a thousand other things that ask us to trust ourselves, it takes guts to stand up to Brenda.
Here are 10 ideas that helped me get her out of the house:
1. Imagine speaking to your younger self 10 or 20 years ago. Yeah, you know the clichés. I won’t mention them here, but most of us can agree that many of the challenges we went through were necessary for us to learn. Perhaps they might now even be considered blessings when looking back.
2. Fear and fire are not always bad things. It means we care and there is possibility inside the challenge if we are willing to look instead of running like hell.
3. Ask yourself what would happen if you decided to let go of the doubt. Would there be more space instead of strain if you gave yourself some room around the fear?
4. Read a book. Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, has so many wise words for those of us who are stuck in our muck. “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.”
5. Meet yourself where you are and give yourself a good dose of love. Make friends with yourself. All of yourself, especially the parts you don’t like so much. In Buddhism, it’s called maitri.
6. Meditate. Yes, we are busy. Yes, there is time. Sit down. Set a timer. Take a deep breath. Yes, it’s okay that your mind wanders. Sit anyway.
7. Go outside, just like Mom said. Getting a fresh breath of air can give us a fresh perspective. Walking, biking, or any outdoor activity helps to create space around a crowded mind.
8. Perhaps it’s time to name your nemesis and give them the boot. Articulating the internal voice that shows up when stepping outside what we know is a powerful tool. Once we are able notice the moments when we start to get stuck by a Brenda voice, we can shift our habitual thoughts and create a possibility instead of a stop sign.
9. Recognize that we have a choice in how to respond to the inner voice that questions. The key is to catch the moment when we are reacting out of habit, emotions, and memories. We choose whether to nourish our inner angels or demons.
10. Most of all, be patient with your process. It takes time and a whole lot of love.