Why I Stuck With Teaching Yoga (And Why I'm Happy I Did)

Written by Octavia Raheem

The other day a friend of mine who had just completed her yoga teacher training asked me about my process of "becoming a yoga teacher." She commented, "You seem so confident."

It took me aback.

I remember the first yoga class I taught at a community center back in 2007. I fumbled through. I endured some interesting stares. I stumbled while demonstrating a balancing pose.

Then we got to savasana.

I sat and watched everyone breathe a little easier than they had at the beginning of class. One woman who I’d imagined had been scowling at me the whole time had a slight smile on her face. I looked closely at each person lying there. I whispered “thank you” one at a time, to each of them.

Post-savasana there were deep sighs and “Whoa, I’ve needed this all my life.”

The peace was palpable. It was profound.

After that first shaky class, I realized that despite my shyness, I needed to share my voice and experience with others through yoga.

My first consistent yoga-teaching gig was at a gym. There was a racquetball court next door, the stereo was often broken, I had to bring extra clean mats, and the funk in the space was borderline unbearable. I stayed at that gig two years, showed up every class, planned, and taught my heart out.

Slowly I added more gym classes and finally added a studio class — a dance studio, that is. My class ran parallel to a pole dance class. In mid-vinyasa we were usually serenaded with the sound of sweaty thighs sliding down poles, “Go head babies,” and stilettoes hitting the floor. It was perfectly imperfect, and I loved it.

The first time I taught at a dedicated yoga space, I had six students. One left early and another one lay on the floor and put a towel over her face for, um, like 40% of the class. Of the four people who stayed, two of them came back the next week.

I continued to map out yoga sequences, comb through books (holy, children's and everything in between) for inspiration, construct playlists, show up 30-45 minutes early, sage the room, talk and check in with my students after class, seek out feedback from respected teachers, and more.

Though I’ve gotten more efficient with my processes over the years, I still do all of the above in some capacity before and after each class.

I continued to get on my mat, to burn through insecurities, and chant down the throat of my doubts and fears so that I could fully show up for each student and each class.

I remember the first time I taught a class with double-digit numbers of people, exactly 10 folks present. I was so excited and nervous.

The first time my class was full to capacity before the designated start time, I thought, "What a phenomenon."

The second time it happened. I thought, "What a blessing."

And so it goes.

Now, sometimes there are six, sometimes there are 60. There are co-led events with attendance well over 200. There are classes that one person shows for.

Always there's a recognition of the path that chose me as much as I chose it.

Always, there is gratitude.

The other day someone walked out of class 10 minutes in and slammed the door loud on the way out.

Later that week someone cried in camel pose and told me she felt her heart expanding, not breaking anymore.

Like that first class, I still stumble over words and sometimes fall during demonstrations.

No matter what, once my students arrive at savasana, I hold each of them close to my heart. And I whisper, "Thank you."

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