As a yoga teacher, one aspect of our job is to help people face their fears. We do it by challenging students to stay in a pose, face the postures they prefer to avoid, and reminding them to breathe deeply through a complex sequence.
But what about us as teachers?
What fears might we have that need to be brought to light?
We don’t often talk to each other about our fears. We stay positive and share our successes: the sold-out workshop, the connection we made with a student, the success of our first retreat. But inside, we all have fears. We have worries around body image, presentation, personal style, knowledge and experience.
To deny we have them is to avoid finding healthy ways to work through them. When we avoid working through them, they remain as barriers to our growth.
Here are a few that come to my mind, through my own personal experience:
1. That teacher is better than me.
Have you ever taken a class and thought that you’re inadequate on some level as a teacher? It’s easy to compare our teaching to others. We can do it by taking someone’s class, we can do it through watching what they’re up to on social media and making assumptions about the quality of their teaching. We can do it by overhearing what others say about teachers they love.
Comparisons do two important things: (1) they can help secure us in the knowledge that we’re teaching in a way that is consistent with who we are and (2) they can challenge us to push our boundaries.
The teacher who knows more about yoga philosophy can be the catalyst to your taking a course on the Sutras; the one who teaches a popular heated yoga class can confirm for you that this style is just not your thing.
Taking a class as a student is not an objective experience; there is no way one can say, “This is the right way to teach and this is the wrong way.” Be responsible and accountable to know the essentials around teaching but find your own way of expressing it.
2. That teacher has bigger classes than me.
Did you ever see the posts on Facebook in which teachers note how many students were in their class and wonder if you’ll ever have a packed room? This kind of fear is circular and is a slippery slope to self-doubt that will plague you for your teaching career if not faced head on.
There are so many factors to consider: time of class, location, prior experience of the teacher, whether or not he or she has an existing following. That said, there are steps we can take as teachers to promote our classes. These should be taken to generate interest and attendance. At the end of the day, the ultimate decision is the student’s. Your job is to do your absolute best in your teaching and be willing to the take the risk to share yourself.
The more you do, the more you'll create connections with your students and build your classes. Make an effort to control what you can and have faith in yourself. Also have the strength to be open to feedback and exploring what might be missing.
3. If I were to host my own retreat or workshop, I won’t have enough people to fill it.
Have you ever thought you’d like to do a retreat or host a workshop but you stop out of fear that no one will show up?
There are logistics to hosting your own workshops and retreats. It should be part of your research that you understand what that minimum number of attendees is and that you plan for it. This minimum should take into consideration the factors important to you: the time to plan and execute the event, travel time, lost revenue from getting coverage for your regular classes.
You must take marketing steps targeted at generating sufficient interest to meet the minimum. It might mean setting an upfront minimum with the host studio or retreat center so you plan for the possibility of canceling the event. This isn’t negative thinking; it’s just good planning.
Once that’s done, put your energy into marketing the event, talking it up, sharing it with the students in your classes and posting about it on your social media pages. If it needs to be canceled due to low attendance, take time to review what happened. Did you have people sign up and cancel a few days before? Why did they cancel? Did you schedule the event on a holiday weekend? What can you learn from others who have hosted events that have worked?
Even if you don’t hold the event, was it a failure? It’s only a failure if you avoid trying and putting yourself out there out of fear.
4. I don’t think they like this class.
Ah, the thoughts we think while we teach! We look at the class and try to figure out what students are thinking based on how they look. We try to read their minds by looking at their appearance. Our brain runs in different directions as we adjust what we’re doing based on the assumed feedback we’re receiving or we ignore that feedback and stay on our original path. The energy to do all of this is exhausting.
Why don’t we let ourselves off the hook?
We must teach in a way that is natural to us. As soon as we start to imitate, emulate or do what we think the students want, we’re in trouble. That’s an image that takes an incredible amount of energy to uphold and we will never be able to present a class that meets everyone’s idea of a perfect experience.
The reality is there is no “right” way to teach. Our responsibility is to teach from our hearts and the experience we have and working to be of assistance. Our goal of “how can I help?” as Deepak Chopra would say, always puts us in the right frame of mind to be of service. And this is our ultimate role as a teacher.
5. I don’t know enough about yoga to be a teacher.
There is much to learn in order to be a yoga teacher! There are both the hands-on aspects of teaching as well as the academic aspects of learning about yoga history, philosophy, anatomy and the myriad of other aspects of teaching.
Along with what you must learn to teach, there’s the aspect of personal expression. What you learn will be filtered through your own sense of expression and personal presentation. The reality is there isn’t a way that you can know everything.
Some teachers will be heavier on asana; others will be heavier on philosophy or anatomy. We need to find a blend that feels right to us.
If you feel there are areas where you are lacking in knowledge, it’s critical that you do what’s needed to seek out the missing data. Also, as a teacher, be open to saying, “I don’t know” when asked a question and don’t know the answer. (Then go and research it to find out!) The best thing we can offer our students is our commitment to do our best.
Fear is at the heart of every obstacle we face as teachers. It’s the same fear that actors speak of when they receive awards; it’s the fear athletes speak of when they win championships. Pretending this feeling is not there does a disservice to our growth.
Assuming that you’re the only one who has them is wrong. It’s through the path of trying and doing our best that we will grow rich in experience and this experience will only enrich what we can offer our classes as we teach.