At this time last year, I was writing book reports, visiting yoga studios, and eating way too much Mr. Yogato – in other words, working my way through Tranquil Space’s 200-hour teacher training. Intent on learning anatomy, memorizing the sequencing for Surya A, and deepening my own practice, I didn’t have a lot of time or mental energy left over to think about what “I” would be like as a teacher.
But then teacher training ended. “I” was a teacher. And I found out very quickly that teaching yoga is its own practice. And by practice, I don’t mean the going-through-the-motions-perfect-the-first-time-I-already-know-how-to-do-this practice; I mean the sweat-it-out-try-it-again-and-again-what-the-hell-am-I-doing practice. Only after I started teaching did I discover two deeply embedded and unexplored expectations I held: that teaching yoga was going to be a beautiful dance of sequencing and music (followed, of course, by enlightenment) and that the performance of teaching yoga had nothing to do with Me. [I’ll pause for some chuckles and knowing smiles here.]
As you might expect (and some of you experienced with me), the first few months were hard. Fun, but hard. Everywhere I turned, I was running into myself: worried that my students wouldn’t like me, worried that my classes were too hard or too easy, checking MBO to see how many people had signed up for my classes…and on and on. In class, most of my mental energy was spent remembering where I wanted everyone’s right foot to go on the next exhale or on the great “pat your head, rub your belly” moments of simultaneously teaching and assisting. After an exhausting month, I finally came to my senses and came up for air. But the extra oxygen only led to new questions: “Is this it? Is enlightenment really to be gained through stepping your right foot forward in between your hands one more time?”
One of the most helpful things someone advised me during teacher training is to let the yoga do the work. Some form of yoga has been around for thousands of years, I was told – likely because there is something powerful and beneficial about the practice itself. In other words, yes, there can be something magical and transformative about stepping your right food forward in between your hands for the fifth time. After all, the “simple” practice of yoga is what led me to want to become a teacher in the first place.
Of course, however, yoga is more than just asana – the physical poses we practice during class. According to Patanjali, there are eight limbs of yoga, of which asana is only one. There are the yamas and niyamas – the yogic “do’s” and “don’ts” – pranayama (breath work), meditation, and much more. Incorporating more of these elements into my classes has helped me to delve deeper into the other transformative practices that yoga has to offer and to balance my teaching more between effort and ease, the needs of my students and my own needs as a teacher. Becoming a teacher has been a wonderful, jolting reminder of the power of yoga to wake us up, spin us around, and put us gently (or not so gently) back down with new understandings about life and our role in it. My deepest thanks go to the yogis and teachers who have been a part of this journey with me over the past year. You make the hard work fun. Namaste.