Why I Teach Yoga

I teach yoga because I can. By this I mean I think that I am able to utilize my gifts of words, and my highly developed people reading and sensitivity skills in this way.

I teach yoga because it marries my introverted nature and my extroverted nature. The practice itself is introverted but the delivery of it requires a certain amount of extroversion and the ability to read people and give them what they need.

This requires listening to them, hearing them, and then trying to match my skills with what they might need.

I teach yoga because it feeds my ego. I don’t like writing that, but it is true. I don’t think anyone does anything that doesn’t feel good and boost self-esteem, so this is the activity that does that for me.

I teach yoga because I like being a conduit for change in people’s lives. I like providing and leading people into a place in their minds and their bodies where they can find out new things and contemplate new horizons.

 I like that people leave class feeling better than when they arrived.

I teach yoga because nobody has to do it. It is a voluntary  activity that they choose freely. Most people like it, even the people who are very stiff and cannot get into postures easily, if at all.

I like being an agent for change, even though I don’t like the word “agent” particularly. “Conduit” doesn’t really capture it either, but someday I will find the right word to describe my role. Actually that is what I am searching for here. I want a word that truly describes how I teach.

I am energetic in the yoga room. I think I am articulate. I hope I am inspiring. I want to be deeper in my teaching. I want to allow more space and not talk so much. I want to figure out where to go next.

I think people find out what they should be doing once they start paying attention to what they are doing. Once you start paying attention to your life, you know how to live. This is the key to everything.

In yoga we talk about it as “being the witness” and while I understand what this means now, at first it can be a very esoteric concept: Be the witness?? What?

But this is the big problem for everyone. Everyone just does. No one pays attention to the doing. But if people started paying attention to what they are doing, then they would know what they ought to be doing and what things feel good to them and when they feel like they are expressing themselves authentically in the world.

When we feel that we are expressing ourselves authentically in the world, we feel great. We feel empowered. We feel amped. We feel that we are doing what we were designed to do.

I teach yoga because I am able to focus people’s attention to what they are doing. “Pay attention to your breath,” I say. Or, “Notice when your hamstrings feel tight, or you clench your jaw.”

For an hour I help them learn how to pay attention to what they are doing. On the yoga mat. The hope is that the ability to do it on the yoga mat will translate into the ability to do it while driving a car, or making a sandwich, or working on a project.

I teach yoga because it gives me an opportunity to show people that simple practices, committed to and done everyday, or regularly, will build a powerful ability to focus and concentrate and this power will spill over into all aspects of their life. Making it more satisfying.

Finding the Teacher’s Voice

I have been thinking about my teaching more than usual these days because I am giving a lot more time to my personal practice.

I think my personal practice is really good for my teaching because as I experience poses in my own body I am more able to articulate what might be going on for my students in their bodies.

Even though I have been teaching full-time for almost seven years, I feel that I am only beginning to find my voice as a teacher.

It takes a really long time to find your voice as a yoga teacher.  Your voice has to be who YOU are, and that can be problematic when you don’t know who you are.

I remember as a yoga teacher in training at Kripalu being told over and over to “make your teaching your own!”  But it is hard to “make it your own” when you don’t know who you are, not only as a yoga teacher, but as a person.

It is especially hard when “who you are” is still growing and evolving. One day who “you” are could be an overbearing asshole; and the next day you could be a compassionate pussycat.

But if you follow your inclination to be who you are, this will mean that one day you will come into your class and boss people around, and the next day purr into their little ears. And they will be confused. And this will NOT be good for your rep as a yoga teacher.

So what yoga teachers in training usually wind up doing is finding a teacher with an “emulatable” style and copying them for a while.

And there is nothing wrong with this, and in fact, there is a whole lot right with it. Think of art students who sit in museums copying a Chagall just to learn how to paint that way.

But eventually the artist and the yoga teacher both have to stop copying other people and be who they really are—if they can figure out who that is.

Sometimes what it comes down to is just figuring out who you are NOT as a teacher.

I remember there was this girl in my training class who was holier-than-thou asshole and  talked endlessly about her “sadhana” and even gave herself a Sanskrit name (Santtosha, I think) and even had Kripalu inscribe that name on her diploma at the end.

I avoided this chick like the plague because I didn’t trust myself not roll my eyes right at her and say, “Really, Santosha? Your sadhana? Please.” Her 2 week-old “devotion” to her sadhana bugged the hell out of me. If I encountered her as a teacher, I would run, not walk out of such a class, so much do I hate that kind of pious crap.

I am now beginning to follow a blog called Recovering Yogi in which the bloggers are all pretty critical of  holier-than-thou yoga teachers with their silly language and their fake-ness.

These yoga teachers are not perfect people in their lives, nor do they pretend to be. They have problems and hang-ups, but they also are trying to follow a yogic path.  They can be  funny and irreverent and they are modeling a kind of teaching that feels more authentic to me, personally.

I don’t want to be who I am not when I am in the teacher’s seat. What I am trying to do is to live my life with integrity and be who I really am, while at the same time not pretend that what I *wish* to be is who I am already. Make sense?  (I think so.)

But at the same time I want my students to have a good experience. I don’t want to make my teaching about me. I want to make it about them. I want to find any and all connections that might exist between their experience and mine.  And I want that connection to be translated through the yoga practice.

I think if I  practice enough I will be able to articulate what I find as I begin to find it.  And how will that help them?  I don’t exactly know. But I think if I keep doing my practice and reflecting about it–especially about how it changes my experience, then that’s all I can do.

And that might be enough.