I’ve been called worse, but please don’t call me that.
I don’t like to think of myself as a “yoga teacher”. I feel like it implies I have something to teach you, but you don’t have anything to teach me. Like I’m going to somehow fill your brain with all this wisdom I have that you do not have. That’s so not the way it works, man. I feel like it puts me on this undeserving pedestal where I walk in, fresh off my cloud from heaven where I’ve been sitting in absolute bliss and perfection, burning my nagchampa and looking down at all the little people who have so much to learn from me. It fails to recognize how personal the practice of yoga is for each person who practices, which is what I do. Practice. Not MASTER.
I mean really, I don’t even know what I’m doing with my life half the time.
When I go in to “teach” a yoga class, my main goal is for students to feel at home in their bodies and to connect that to their mind so they can create whatever experience they need. In other words, it’s not about me. I in no way want them to feel like their body should look exactly like mine or anyone else’s in any pose. Their practice should not be my practice even if I am standing at the front of the class leading them through pses and pranayama (breathing). Each of us has our own unique body and experiences with it that has shaped how it moves in it’s own unique way. Yoga classes shouldn’t be designed to prepare students for their lengthy photo shoots for Yoga Journal. In my opinion, the only thing I should be teaching you is how to come home in your own body and to trust your own innate intuition about it and to trust in your own experiences.
I barely consider myself an expert. Often times students ask me questions that is way out of my pay grade which is both flattering and a little unnerving as I then have to say, “Uhhhhh ya so…I don’t know.”
I never want to offer advice on anything that a medical professional, physical therapist, personal trainer, psychotherapist, hypnotherapist or any other professional with way more credentials than me would be better to advise on. I don’t know too much about your specific injury, but I can give you some modifications on it for the class I’m teaching and guess what? I learned some of those modifications from other students. That’s right- sometimes dear yoga student, I glean so much knowledge from you just by watching the modifications you make yourself for your own body.
You don’t need a special credential to be intuitive about your body and mind. You simply need to trust yourself.
And I feel like I repeat myself like a broken record in my classes to use the intuition you have about your own body in any class you take. If the teacher calls out cues that don’t work for you, or don’t make sense and sound like a foreign language (sorry for the Sanskrit) call us over. That’s what we’er here for! If you’re like me you’re thinking, “Oh, but I don’t want to bother you…you’re teaching.”
Exactly! We are technically teaching as much as I hate identifying with that word. I haven’t figured out the exact word or phrase I prefer to use: guiding, facilitating, barking out orders, flying by the seat of my pants.
You may have heard, there is more to yoga than the physical asana practice. I have been reading the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and it says the physical postures are intended to get us deeper into our meditation practice. The ultimate practice of yoga is to reach “spiritual enlightenment”…I guess. That’s another loaded word for me too-enlightenment.
Look, if you become enlightened in my opinion then you are completely without ego and not even on the same plane of existence as the rest of us. As much as we demonize our ego, it is very useful in letting us know where one person begins and another begins. It tells us to take care of our kids and brush our teeth. It’s when it becomes overblown, and this happens a lot in the yoga community believe it or not, that it becomes a problem in my book. We can find a balance between our chattering brain and our creative, intuitive, lighthearted right brain. For me, if I start believing I am a teacher, then I am feeding my ego and giving it too much power and this is yoga; I don’t want power. It’s a practice, not a power play.
This is the work of yoga. This is the practice, at least to me. Maybe it is to you, too. There are 8 limbs to yoga, a lot of texts and philosophies and styles to follow, and in my opinion, you can pick and choose what you like and leave what you don’t. I choose to be authentic to myself as often as possible. Yoga for me is the practice of life, and hopefully we all do it. When I am in teaching one of my classes, I consider myself simply sharing my practice with the people who chose to show up. And in return, they share their practice with me. And even though I am cuing them through poses and breathing, describing them in ways that make sense in my brain and body, I am hoping that they are finding their ways in their own body and creating their own experience.
You have probably heard a lot of yoga teachers say that they found yoga for the physical practice and then it developed into a spiritual practice. This is common, but it doesn’t have to be the rule. If you just want to come to yoga class because it feels good in your body, great. Show up for that. I love that. You don”t have to wax intellectual with me about various philosophies. Shit, I don’t understand all of them. I don’t have a guru. Sometimes I just show up to a class because physically my body needs the physical practice. Sometimes I show up because my shitty attitude needs a shift.
That’s right, the yoga teacher has a shitty attitude, and usually more often than not. I do my best, I know myself well, but I am still doing the work. That’s why I dislike being called a yoga teacher. It doesn’t feel authentic. I feel like a total fraud. Like I should be a perfect angel, or more like Gandhi, then you can call me a teacher. Until then, just call me Erica. That works just fine. We’re all in this together. Each and every one of us has something to teach and learn to and from one another. Even people who have treated you like shit. Those can especially be your teacher so try not to discredit them too quickly. I think my biggest teachers, and this is just me, are my children.
When we look at everyone as a teacher, as a mirror, we can learn so much about ourselves. It’s so easy to project and deflect, like our shit doesn’t stink but deep down we all know that’s not true.
True yogis know everyone’s shit stinks. My favorite yoga teachers are the authentic ones. The ones who mess up and own it. The ones who don’t try and sell me on their brand and just let me come as I am and who just come as they are. The ones who accept themselves fully so that I can accept myself fully. Those are greater gifts than money can buy.
So please, don’t call me a yoga teacher. Believe me when I say, I am learning so much from you as well. Come share your practice with me and that’s all I need. Practice sharing. Yoga practice sharer… does that work?