The Courage to Teach

I recently heard the quote "be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." This has suddenly become clear for me as life puts up it's challenges and I find myself feeling a bit wounded as well as deeply compassionate for the wounds others sustain.

Having just moved to the Bay area, I'm subbing classes at different studios, making connections and seeing how my teaching is received by those who know nothing about me or my background. Today I subbed what was meant to be an intermediate/advanced vinyasa class. Within the first five minutes of teaching one woman stormed out of the room later complaining that the class was too easy. Another woman was so fascinated by her chipped nail polish she could hardly follow the class. Only one student was at an intermediate level, everyone else needed alignment work. Leaving the studio I felt deflated, my ego definitely wounded.

I have been teaching for over ten years now and travel and teach workshops, with positive reception, around the country. As a new teacher in Marin I've had a lot of appreciation for my offering. So one would think that the subbing experience would be a drop in the bucket. My hurt reaction to the experience teaches me just how much I care about how students receive what I present. The irony is that I am often critical of other teachers if I feel their teaching doesn't have integrity. I am now reminded that my opinion is subjective and to bow to all who get up and teach.

Teaching yoga may seem from the outside like a dream job, sharing the benefits of an ancient practice and philosophy and watching your students blossom. And it is... some of the time. As a yoga teacher you are presenting yourself on many fronts- your knowledge and skill in teaching the postures of yoga, your ability to touch and adjust people, your personal practice and even the condition of your body. Your personality is a factor: students may like or dislike your classes based on your outward expression. Even your "spiritual" life can be under some scrutiny. Because the yogic practice becomes an integral and deeply personal experience, as a teacher you want to somehow impart what you experience. Your teaching can become a precious gift you wrap carefully and offer. Sometimes it is accepted with joy and appreciation, and other times indifference or even hostility. It's not surprising that many teachers adopt a certain set style, like Bikram or Astanga Yoga, so they have an umbrella to shelter under. Those of us who create our own sequences, weaving in yogic teachings and poetry possibly suffer more when rejection occurs.

I have come to realize how entwined my identity is around being a "good" yoga teacher. When I have full classes and people seem happy, I feel great, smaller classes and I question my teaching.

In the past year I have glimpsed an ability in myself to see my teachings as an offering to be given without attachment. This is my ideal, something with which I now know I need more practice.

Writing this and reflecting on my experience today while still feeling the knot in my throat, I honor all those who have the courage to teach.