Flash back to December 2017 when I successfully graduated from a 200-hour Vinyasa yoga teacher training through a reputable yoga studio with multiple locations spanning across the Denver metro. As with any final project required to be presented for teacher-approval, I had spent too many hours worrying about the execution of my 15-minute yoga sequence and not enough hours practicing the effectiveness of my instruction.
But our instructors did offer us guidance for our final sequences during those countless Saturdays in the studio before, where a few of us silently struggled to create a sustained and comfortable seated position using the lego-tower of yoga props at our disposal.
They told us:
“Use a metronome to improve your verbal pacing.”
“Write a list of action verbs that convey every letter of the alphabet.”
“Record yourself-over and over again.”
These were meaningful suggestions—and I’m sure I would have improved immensely as an effective teacher if I had practiced all of these skills on a regimented basis. But as the ego of my college days liked to say, “Eh, sounds like a nice idea but you don’t actually have the time to put in all of this extra work.” Clever.
My final 15-minutes to shine as a yoga instructor for 16 of my peers arrived and passed as quickly as any brazen 15-minute scroll through Instagram. A couple of rights and lefts were flipped. A foot was mistakenly labeled as a knee. And somehow, I couldn’t cough out the sanskrit word or even the English term for, “Mountain Pose” and just proclaimed, “Stand tall!” But after that brief mental black-out when my words flew out of my mouth without my mind giving the final “ok” for submission, I was proud to call myself: A yoga teacher. I had really done it. I accomplished a goal that was honorably scratched out on a piece of journal paper months beforehand.
Around this same time period, I had devised a brilliant plan to quit my full-time job with benefits in order to really dedicate the time and space I would need to jump-start my new career path as a beacon of zen and active stretching techniques. I mean, wasn’t that what eight years of cumulative yoga classes and personal practice had me destined for all along? Plus, I had fed myself daydreams of teaching abroad at hostels and exotic retreat centers; places where I could exchange my highly sought after yoga skill-set in order to acquire free room and board while on an inward journey to beautiful beaches and sweet sweet beverages sipped from the fleshy pale meat of half-split coconut shells.
But before embarking on my true calling, I planned to take Kendrick Lamar’s advice and “Stay Humble” by picking up a couple of Vinyasa classes at a small-scale yoga studio located in the quaint town of Golden, CO. How sweet of me. By the time I plopped myself down in front of the MindBody software for the first time as a teacher instead of just-the-receptionist, I had conjured up a thousand ideas as to where “yoga” would land me and the vast amounts of un-targeted populations with whom I would extend my new abilities. And by the time I was wrapping up that first newsflash of an egregious class, there was no way to conjure up any other sensation other than the hot flush of my cheeks and the incessant instinctual prodding to hide myself under a table. While apprehensively cuing my one poor student during that hour time slot, I had misread the clock and ultimately sealed her in a 17-minute coffin of Savasana—or what you might call, “a nap.” Perhaps it wasn’t the absolute worst outcome for my first hour-long class (because who doesn’t love naps?), but I didn’t necessarily exude enough confidence to follow up with her afterwards in order to hear about her experience in this alleged “Vinyasa” class.
God, I couldn’t figure out which way was up and which way was down in this new, yet, ancient world. The “shoulds” piled up on my personal teaching approach like a stack of buttery pancakes in front of an NFL quarterback until I noticed myself waking up and struggling to find the energy or personal mission statement to unroll my mat at the front of the classroom. I once heard that difficulty getting out of bed is a sign that you don’t like your job—or that you’re depressed? Maybe both. Whichever it was, I struggled. And not just because I couldn’t decipher whether it was more appropriate to write #yogi or #yogini on my social media posts attempting to prove that I could both practice yoga and also, teach it?
As this epoch of life drifted by, I casually started documenting my own yoga postures on video in the winter following my teacher graduation. I held onto the vague notion of studying my own body as though I could cure the cancer of “who am I?” in a more methodical and logical fashion. But as I executed pose after pose in front of the camera throughout the seasons of my life unfolding off-camera, it slowly sank in that yoga could simply exist as a conjured up list of body shapes almost as equal to the choreographed poses of dance. I realized that teaching Western influenced yoga could be as simple as attaching my authentically-disguised teacher voice, slipping on a brilliant collection of Tibetan-import blessed mala beads and calling out pose after pose while showering my students with the neutral beats of Tycho.
And so, like a stick of incense accidentally dropped into the ritual bath waters, I burned out.
I’d love to continue this story with an explanation of how I kept teaching and how I smoothed out all of my vocal kinks, awkward cues and sincerely-meant but seriously over used regurgitated yoga-esque phrases like, “swan-dive forward,” and “feel the earth beneath you.” And although I did invest more time (and money) into additional trainings, a summer-long mentorship program and then slowly (literally) arrived at the realization that I enjoyed teaching Yin yoga far more than fast-paced Vinyasa classes, I ultimately wrapped up all of my classes this past January. At that time, I had moved far enough away from my teaching studio for the $4/student compensation to lose out against my disdain for long commutes during rush hour. Although the sum of my actions to quit could be boiled down to a multitude of excuses like this, I think my body knew what it wanted long before my mind ever developed “reasons.” I won’t allow myself to say that I wasn’t good at teaching but I will allow myself to say that I am no longer investing my energy into watching Youtube videos on how to cue your students more effectively nor am I continually reconstructing musical playlists in order to grip my students in just the right way.
As I accelerate even further away from my adolescent venture as a teacher, I gaze back at it as though I am driving home from a casual day hike in the mountains. I explored for a very limited period of time in a very minute chunk of vast mountain-range that extends beyond comprehension. If you didn’t clue in yet, yoga is that mountain range. How easy it is to see the pose, reach your goal of attaining the pose—and quickly realize that once the pose is completed, there are countless more miles of depth to uncover. How easy it was to see teaching, reach the goal of teaching—and immediately realize that serving as a teacher is an act that is endlessly beyond cuing my rights and lefts with 100% accuracy.
Ultimately, my entire journey through the bamboo forest of teaching led me to discover: my voice is powerful but it is just another voice if I do not use my own experience. Because,
Yoga is more than the the damn poses!
My success as a teacher did not depend on my ability to devise a new and clever way of cuing my students back into their standing pose. It did not even depend on my ability to, “speak from my vagina”, which is what one fellow instructor offered up as well-meant advice. Why not? Because honestly, I needed to find my vagina first. Anatomically, I knew where it resided but I rarely felt the grip of personal conviction when I spoke out “my truth” to a classroom. I needed more time to figure out my truth. I needed more time to witness yoga showing up in my life beyond the poses.
And I’m a work in progress. But here are some words and phrases that describe what yoga is to me these days:
—Upon losing it, turn around and return to “GO”.
The state between the beginning and the end.
A user-manual entitled, “For God Sakes, Haven’t You Yet Realized That Getting Your Way All the Time Leads to More Unhappiness?”
Intimate connection with others and the earth.
Unchaining movement from its body.
The freedom to move forward from mistakes with a compassionate mind.
How am I feeling? What—am I thinking?
Taking off the mask.
Take off the mask.