I used to think that in order to be a successful yoga teacher I had to teach packed, rockin’ Vinyasa classes week after week. I thought that the more I could make people sweat, the more I was getting “it.” Please note, this is not to say anything about people who teach rockin’, sweaty Vinyasa classes…I love taking those classes and still love teaching them, but because of my experience, my personal feelings and measure have changed. This post is an attempt to share this experience with you.
About a year ago I finally had a chance to prove my worth and was offered a teaching gig in a prime time mid-week, evening spot at my studio. I had been subbing sweaty Vinyasa classes with much success since I started teaching, but never my own regular class. In hindsight and in a very limited way, sure I guess that’s how you tell you made it, but now I see it much differently. What I realize now is that was my ego talking and the key to being a successful yoga teacher has less to do with how many people show up in class and more to do with how you serve the students that come with you to their mat.
You see, I started teaching this class as a necessity and even gave up another regularly packed class in order to teach it. At the time I felt strongly that I was making the right move and finally I’d have my chance to shine and share what I had to give with my fellow yogis in my own community. I was so eager, so willing to make it work, that I dove in without really feeling out the situation. Then…well people stopped coming and I got discouraged and it started to affect my classes and ultimately, I had to give it up. I realize now that they stopped coming not because of me, but because they were upset the other teacher was no longer there. However, at the time it felt really personal, like I couldn’t teach at all. Some of them had even gone so far as to start petitions to have her back and boycott the studio, but what did that have to do with me? Nothing really, yet I still took it personal and it still hurt my feelings. All I wanted to do was teach and somehow that got lost in the mix.
In the same vain, about a week or so ago I considered giving up writing on my blog not for any reason but that I feel like there is a lot of repetition in content and messages out there and it seems everyone has a yoga blog these days. Every day I receive newsletters and updates from a multitude of sources seemingly repeating the same stories. I told a friend my consideration and she stopped me in my tracks reminding me that sometimes people need to hear things time and time again to get them and that even though messages are the same, the delivery is different and people relate in different ways. Needless to say, I’m not giving it up.
Having over a year to reflect on the experience I realize that I’m a much stronger teacher now than I was before directly because of this situation. I also see my teaching much differently. In fact, going through that experience has helped me strip the bullshit out of my teaching and now, I hope, I just get down to business, serving the needs of the students that walk into my classes. Perhaps this is a backwards way of thinking as we all know that teachers are rewarded by the number of students that show up in class. But I don’t want to be judged. Instead, I want to serve others and help people relax, enjoy life a little, shine and feel good about themselves. I feel much more grateful for the students that do come to class and take care to help them in any way that I can. After all, practicing and teaching yoga should never be a popularity contest.
Throughout my ordeal (it wasn’t really an ordeal, but a really tough, long and drawn out learning experience that I’ll call an ordeal for dramatic effect) I was supported by great friends that listened to me break down and ultimately break through. One of my very closest yogi friends always reminds me that “you will teach the students you need to teach.” I remind myself of this often, my heart overflowing with love and appreciation for the mats in the room and the smiling students that rest upon them.
I can only hope that as I go deeper in my practice my teaching will reflect the new depths that I uncover and that by doing so, I will be able to teach and serve in the way that is authentic. I am reminded daily that yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind so that we can connect directly with Source or God. When I allow myself to be clouded by egoistic qualities, I am much farther from the end goal of all of this hard work. If I can let go of the expectations I place on myself and learn to be still within the grace of each breath, then surely I will be able to serve as intended.