A few months ago I started feeling my deep connection to my yoga practice slipping away. Yoga was starting to lose the luster it once had with me, and I felt myself starting to get stagnant in my personal practice and my teaching. I felt guilty because I felt like I wasn’t teaching anymore. My classes just seemed like I was calling out pose after pose without putting any life into them. I started doubting myself as a teacher. When I would practice on my own, I would mechanically go through poses without having any sense of what they felt like for me. That’s when I wrote my blog post, “Don’t call me a yoga teacher.” I didn’t feel like one and wondered if it would just feel better for me to go back to being a student for a while without any classes on a schedule to teach. Maybe I needed time to reconnect to the practice myself so I could share it with the students who showed up to my classes.
I was carrying around a deep sense of doubt in myself as a yoga teacher.
This led me to believe that I was also boring, not creative like other yoga teachers and that my classes lacked something, but I couldn’t figure out what that something was. I don’t teach complicated flows or pretty poses, especially when I see a room full of students where the majority struggle with moving from Virabadrasna 1 and Virabadrasana 2, or more commonly lowering into chaturanga in a way that will cause injury. My aim is to make asana accessible to everyone in the room. I teach from the ground up; find your footing first, then work your way up your body. Find that rooted down energy in whatever body part is touching the mat, and work the energy up and out from there. In my head I was thinking, keep the students safe, but I was doubting myself thinking with that I wasn’t being much fun.
What I really needed was some freshness to my asana practice, to get out of my head, to refocus, and I needed some great teachers to guide me back into why I love this practice.
In true Gemini fashion, my interests tend to be varied and cast wide, and I tend to start things without finishing them. In other words, I don’t have much focus or follow through. I can go into something new with great enthusiasm, skim the top for a bit, and then come to a point where I suck and find something else to work on instead of sinking deeper into what I was working on, and working through the ego bruising of having to suck at something for a while.
There are different physical styles of yoga I love so much; vinyasa, yin, Kundalini and Ashtanga are the main ones I have followed since I first began the practice. Along with yoga I also love weightlifting and Kettlebells, and had been spending a fair amount of time on that, not leaving much time for my personal yoga practice except as a warm up and cool down to my workouts.
Recently, I decided to commit myself to the practice of Ashtanga yoga. We had a teacher who taught an hour class every week at my home studio, but she left to go teach Pilates and Yoga at a huge gorgeous gym. I was able to make it to her classes for a while before she left, and there was a little spark every time I would go. There aren’t a lot of Ashtanga options in my area, at least that fit into my day job schedule. So I let that spark fade out and was back to droning on, forcing myself to try and do a yoga practice but winding up swinging some kettlebells instead.
If you don’t know about Asthgna yoga I will explain. It is structured vinyasa style system of yoga that was created by J. Pattabhi Jois that combines pranayama (breath), dristhi (gaze) and bandhas (energetic locks in the body) with movements in a specific order. I am only on the Primary Series and will probably spend the next decade here. It’s not like the first part of the practice is something I’ve never seen before: Sun Salutations A and B, followed by some standing postures I have done a million times but in a completely different way. Even practicing Trikonasana, triangle pose, which I teach all the time and have done millions of times, there is something so different about the way it’s done in ashtanga that has to be experienced. Pulling up and in with mula bandha (pelvic floor lock) and uddiyana bandha (naval lock) while looking up at the raised hand has left me feeling much stronger in this pose.
And bonus- I don’t pee anymore when I sneeze more than twice and swing a kettlebell.
The second part of the primary series which is a lot of seated poses, forward folds, inversions and backbends and finishing poses is where I am stuck and sucking right now. I fall on my ass constantly! Building the core strength for the jumping through and lifting up to jumping back was what has brought me into this practice. It’s made me want to learn more. It’s reignited that flame I had for the practice itself as a whole. That’s all well and good because traditionally we are supposed to master poses before moving on. I have a lot of mastering to work up to!
That makes me think perhaps I not only needed some teachers to connect with, to get outside of myself, but also to challenge myself and to be challenged and more importantly, to suck at something so I can work on mastering it. Not just for my body, but to prove to my brain that if I am able to master something physically, I can probably master my mental demons as well.
I’ve been regularly practicing, 6 days a week with one day rest (for the most part) before sunrise, which is easy for me, I have felt my physical body getting stronger. That was my original intent; to get stronger physically from the inside out versus the way I had been doing it with weightlifting and kettlebells, which felt like from the outside in. And lucky me, I found a couple of yoga teachers who teach at times and days where I can actually attend class and gain some insight on the practice, as well as ideas for my own teaching which helps me feel connected and inspired. I also clearly needed a structured yoga practice to keep my monkey brain from going all over the place, mostly into areas of not-enoughness.
With this consistent practice of yoga and exchange of information with other teachers something clicked for me: I am a yoga teacher. I do teach yoga, and I need to do so for the sake of the students who show up for me. I can’t just go in and “share my practice” with a room full of students and ignore the teaching aspect out of fear that I don’t know enough about everything, or that I’ll look like I teach out of an inflated ego. I don’t need to know everything, but I do need to teach them what I know and guide them into and out of poses safely so they can reap the benefits of the physical asana practice as well.
I need to realize that while yes, I will always be a student of yoga, and always have something to learn (which is part of the sweetness of the practice), I need to step into my power as a teacher. Not with my ego, but in service of the students who show up to my classes. They’re counting on me to make sure they practice safely the same way I am counting on my teachers to do the same for me. To teach me. They’re also counting on me to challenge them to their edge without pushing them over, the same way I hope the teachers I visit will do for me. It’s one thing to call out a bunch of poses and demonstrate, it takes courage to go up to a student and give them one on one attention while leading an entire class of students. That is talent and it’s also serving and giving students the gift of our knowledge. That’s why they show up to our classes. That’s why I show up to class. To be taught something, to learn.
I am not the teacher for everybody, and every yoga teacher is not necessarily the teacher for me. That’s okay. I’m glad I stumbled my way back onto Ashtanga and that I’m feeling more inspired and strong, mind, body and spirit. This is exactly the shit I needed!