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Yoga Teachers: The Real Story

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Some debunked myths about your yoga teacher. There's what you see, and then there's (fanfare) the true story!

 Yoga teachers aren’t always calm and Zen.

I laugh a little on the inside every time someone says, “Oh you teach yoga you must be so calm.” Uh, well, sometimes. Sometimes I’m right back to being a fiery, swearing, opinionated, Italian from East Boston. That’s part of who I am. I love that part of me. Spiritual practice should always be helping us to define our sense of self to be the full, and unique, expression of ourselves for this lifetime. I never trust it when spiritual practice seems to turn someone into a passive, grinning, wishy-washy automaton. That’s not what this is about folks. Spiritual practice is to help us be more of ourselves, and we can’t be more of ourselves without a clearly defined sense of self.

Most yoga teachers I know, friends and colleagues, are actually very intense in some way. We’ve often found the practice to help us calm the f&*k down and begin healing, and have found that teaching can further this therapeutic effect. The more we practice, the more we balance, the more we become a healthy expression of ourselves. We’re able to listen, to stay grounded, to breathe, to be calmer when life hits the fan, what on the outside is colloquially referred to as “Zen.” But we also have strong opinions, we disagree with each other (a lot), we’re active in our lives, we make mistakes, and we get angry, sad, and frustrated like everyone else. We’re human. It’s not that we don’t keep learning, try to do better, or continue to heal what may be unhealthy. But we are who we are. We just do our best to be ourselves with the humility that we’re always growing and learning.

Many yoga teachers are wounded healers.

There’s an archetype of healer that finds their path because they were in some way deeply wounded in their lives. They never want anyone to suffer that kind of pain, rejection, or shock so they go into healing professions to help. Western yoga has developed into one of those professions. There are teachers who skillfully use this motivation from their wounds to heal, and there are teachers who use it to continue to act out unhealthy patterns from the wounds often to the detriment of their student’s mental and spiritual well-being. A teacher of mine once said, “We don’t have to completely heal our patterns to be a healthy and helpful healer, but we do need to be aware of them.”

I have had both kinds of teachers and the difference in the felt experience is palpable. A teacher who is aware of their motivations feels safe, kind, doesn’t overly interfere with your growth, guides with wisdom, and never shames. A teacher who is unaware of how their unhealed wounds motivate them feels controlling, shaming, off-balance, needy, preachy, and pedantic. Our great work as teachers, and I would say our responsibility as teachers, is to be as aware as possible of our own shadow so that it helps us heal and doesn’t cause more harm.

Yoga teachers don’t have the meaning of life figured out.

Run, don’t walk, away from any teacher who makes this claim. No one really knows what’s going on in life my friends. There are those who have had experiences that draw them deeper into an understanding of consciousness, there are some who have figured out what life means to them, but no one can tell you the meaning of life because you’re here to figure that out for yourself. You’re here as a branch of infinite consciousness to figure out what this life means for you in this lifetime. Teachers can guide, offer ideas, but you are the one who must define what life means for you.

Yoga teachers work very hard at what they do and spend a lot of effort and money to improve their work.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told someone I was a yoga teacher and they say some version of, “That’s ALL you do?”

Yup.

And I do well at it.

It takes a lot of hustle, time management, balance, responsibility, organization, some days extra caffeine, and stamina. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Teaching a yoga class is a unique experience. There’s a lot of focus needed, a lot of skill, and a lot of nimble thinking to keep a class safe and provide the balance needed on any given day. Teachers need to be aware of what they observe, manage time well, communicate complex anatomical ideas quickly and accessibly, cue clearly, pace the class well, think on their feet, feel the room and adjust their class as needed, not come off pedantic, effectively communicate helpful spiritual ideas, assess different students needs and safety concerns, in addition to about 150 other ideas. It can look easy from the outside when you see a skilled teacher teach, but that’s no different from anyone who has worked really hard at and has experience with what they do.

And yoga teachers who really want to do well at their profession also often spend a lot of time and a lot of money on furthering their education. They work really hard at improving what they do, and it’s something I always make sure I emphasize to my teacher mentoring clients. I never take lightly when someone comes to invest their time and money with me so that they can learn as much as my teachers don’t take it lightly. The amount of work and investment we put in to what we do is because we love it. Yoga has in some way helped us be better human beings and we want to share it. We work really hard at being the best at what we do so that our students and clients can have the benefit of the practice in their own unique way. We’re a crazy and wonderful bunch of people, all unique, all talented in our own ways, all helping to further this great art for others to enjoy and heal.

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