Now that I’m a full-time yoga instructor, I’d like to confirm a suspicion I’ve had for a while: Teaching yoga has made me second-guess myself more than any other trade or profession I’ve tried.
The idea of not being able to know everything in my other jobs wasn’t as worrisome as it is with teaching yoga. In prior jobs, I could always Google the answer or ask a coworker for help. With yoga and matters of the spirit, it’s not always that easy.
Google, tell me what I need to say to evoke inner peace in my students.
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
No matter what type of teacher you are, the job stays challenging because you never know who’s going to show up. The aficionado? The novice? The skeptic?
I always walk into class with a plan, but that plan often is discarded like so many shoes at the studio door. Sometimes, I scrap my sequence because it doesn’t fit the students’ needs. Other times, I spontaneously change the plan because I’m trying to live up to expectations.
Oh yes, the yoga teacher who is telling you to not judge yourself? I’m judging myself.
I’m judging myself because I want to serve. I want to help, not hinder. I want your experience on your mat to be peaceful and connected, no matter what pose you’re practicing. So when I see your eyes wander or you fidget with your clothes or pick lint off your big toe (it happens), for a split second, I feel like a failure.
A gentle reminder
Last night, two fellow yoga teacher friends shared with me a simple reminder that hit my brainwaves like a big ole exhale:
You are not responsible for another person’s experience.
Read that again. I’m serious! Because it’s not just for yoga instructors. It’s for the person whose worries you’re trying to solve; the partner you’re trying to change; the kid you’re rearing with fingers-crossed he’ll grow up well; and, well, anyone who looks to you for guidance. What you are responsible for:
- Your actions
- Your words
- Your reactions
- Your energy
You can say all the right things at all the right times and put your best self forward, and it’s still not guaranteed that those you’re guiding will come along for the ride.
This is equal parts scary and liberating. And yoga is the perfect training ground to become okay with giving up control.
Your inner guidance
So the next time you’re on the yoga mat, be led. Let down your guard and simply trust. And I’m not talking about trusting the teacher: I’m talking about trusting your Self.
Because sometimes I — or any other yoga teacher with the best intentions and training — will not give you exactly what you need. Can you see the frowny face I’m making right now?
Because I wish I knew how to persuade you to meditate or get rid of all the distractions taking you away from the present moment.
But this is your journey, after all. And just like you can’t convince someone to be happy or a kid to eat her vegetables, you can choose to live by example.
When you take responsibility for your experience, you inspire others to do the same.
And that’s about the closest you can get to persuading someone to stop picking their toe lint in yoga class.
Try it: Reclining Hero Pose, Supta Virasana
A word of caution: If you have a back, knee or ankle injury, please practice this pose under the guidance of an experienced instructor. You might also try simply Virasana without continuing into the backbend. Taking this pose too fast and without warm up can lead to discomfort, pain or injury.
- Kneel on the floor, perhaps with a blanket or extra padding under the knees. Bring the knees together and the feet wider than the hips. Your toes will be flat on the mat and tracking directly back from the ankles.
- Place your thumbs into the knee creases and use your palms to roll the outer calf muscles away from your midline. Sit into this space, lowering your glutes onto the mat in between the legs.
- On an exhale, lean back onto your hands, then lower to your elbows and arms. Tilt the pelvis up and use your hands to lengthen the tailbone toward your knees. If your ribs lift up (like mine) your groins are tight, which can trap tension in the low back. To mitigate this tension, allow the knees to come up off the ground (perhaps prop a blanket beneath them) and widen the knees slightly (just no wider than hips’ distance apart).
- If you’d like to continue to work toward the full pose, begin to ease your ribs down and broaden the upper back to the ground. Carefully lift the arms up overhead and grasp opposite elbows. As you become more flexible, the back will ease fully down onto the mat.
- Stay for six deep breaths. Unwind the arms, then use them to press yourself back up to kneeling. Lead with the sternum, allowing the head to come up last. Bring the hands forward and come into Tabletop position, allowing blood to come back into the knees.