Confessions of an imperfect Yoga teacher
I am outside in my car, bawling my eyes out after having read Sheryl Sandberg’s touching tribute to her beloved husband, Dave. I have to teach a Yoga class in 10 minutes. This week has been a challenging one for many reasons, an eye-opening one in my teaching experience for I have struggled with personal challenges while teaching a subject which is supposed to develop and maintain calmness and equanimity for those practicing it. How can I teach with integrity when I don’t feel calm? How can I teach with an authentic voice and espouse balance when my emotions are anything but balanced?
A student asked me how can I drink tea and alcohol now that I am a yoga teacher. Isn’t that against the sattvik principles and should I not be over such cravings and indulgences? Valid questions that I do ponder about and reflect upon everyday. How can I teach balance when I struggle with balancing pleasure and what defines pleasure? Do I struggle with craving something? Do I desire something that I shouldn’t? How can I teach yoga when I can’t do the handstand without help? And do I get annoyed at my children or yell at the driver who cuts me off? Am I practicing the Niyamas and the Yamas everyday? Am I being a true Yogi, in the truest sense of the word, someone who is above such earthly struggles?
I am an imperfect Yoga teacher. A statement that is very hard for me to internalize for I am a perfectionist. I am a perfectionist in all things that matter deeply to me. Not in the way I keep my house, or organize my shoe closet, but in the way I learn or do something. And this fall from the self defined state of perfection is a hard and a truly humanizing one. These struggles and challenges have kept me up at night, pondering and reflecting in how I can be authentic and honest when I teach. I garner some tools so I can share with my students, in the hope that it helps illuminate their paths as it is doing mine.
Teaching is not about me. Teaching is not about my life, my struggles and triumphs. For that one hour we do have together, I change and shift gears in my mind. The one hour is about them, their need, their time and their journey into their minds and bodies. I can help by sharing from within, by empathizing with their struggles and rejoicing in their triumphs without inserting my story in the mix. It’s about being vigilant, and mindful of another’s need for that moment. Teaching is not merely imparting information but a true sharing of what is within.
Teaching is always being in the beginner’s mind. Some of the best teachers I know do this. They are constantly learning, evolving and growing. They learn from different schools of thought, get different perspectives on the same information and challenge what they know constantly. It keeps the teaching fresh, and keeps the ego in check. It’s being in a state of wonder and discovery. Always. Who wants to learn from an over inflated, pompous being? Are you listening Bikram?
Teaching is defining and redefining one’s truth. I don’t preach what I don’t practice. I don’t cue what I don’t understand. I don’t share what I haven’t internalized. And if I have done so, it has been done inadvertently. When a student shares its hard for her to balance because she had insomnia, I get her struggle. I have been there. I have been anxious, and I know what has helped me and I can share the breathing that helped calm my frayed nerves. I know a student’s struggle to do that perfect ( that word again!) handstand, I am there with them. I know the steps towards getting there. The truth changes, the definition of perfection does too. It is this acceptance of the status quo that I can teach and share. An acceptance stemming from the present moment rather than a future ideal or the past image. It’s the enjoyment of the effort that we put into our practice and all that the effort entails and stands for. Nothing more and nothing less. That’s the truth…..for now.