Becoming a yoga teacher has been one of the best decisions of my life. I could not have imagined when I began practicing that yoga could and would transform my life in so many ways. Since progressing in my personal journey and acquiring the role of teacher, my experience has only deepened. October of this year (2016) marked my first anniversary of being a certified 200-hour hatha teacher. I have been privileged enough to have the opportunity to teach privately, lead workshops, work in a studio, contribute to amazing platforms like BlackGirlYoga and Black Girl in Om, and now teach youth each week at a residential crisis shelter. As I reflect on this adventure, I realize that becoming an instructor has only made me more of a student. Here are some of the greatest lessons my first year as a yoga teacher has given me.
Find Your Inner Voice.
Being a teacher has helped me find, define, and own my inner voice. My unique teaching style is a reflection of who I am as a person and, with time, I have come to love and appreciate what I have to offer. It is easy as a new teacher to feel pressured to mimic the style of a more experienced practitioner. In fact, teacher or not, I would argue that many of us battle the impulse to mirror others. But there is not only one way to be or to teach, and different is not synonymous with “better” or “worse”. Sometimes this is easier said than believed, of course. The truth is, not everyone will like your style! Finding comfort and confidence takes time. You can’t please all of your students all of the time, and that is okay. I had to learn to accept and value who I am as a person in order to value and accept who I am as a teacher.
The beauty of yoga is that it is for everyone. It is a dynamic and multidimensional practice. There are numerous styles, infinite flows, and countless variations of postures. As long as safety and the students’ needs are in mind, all diverse forms are valid and encourage healing and wholeness. It was a big moment to realize that to not remain true to my personal approach could potentially deny a student access to their best experience. I have a lot to offer, and you do also, both on and off of the mat. It is a practice of unconditional acceptance that gives us access to all of our beautiful selves. Being genuine in the classroom paralleled my sincerity and self-love in other spaces.
It Is Not About Me.
Let’s face it, most of us care what people think. How my students reacted to my classes used to determine how I felt about myself. If they didn’t love it, seem completely transformed, or follow every instruction I would wonder if I had done something wrong. I have even felt offended by students’ lack of enthusiasm. On the flip side, I have received my self-worth from students’ admiration or compliments about my class. The teacher-ego is real, and it’s hard to admit. As instructors, we’re somehow supposed to be above all of these feelings. Well, I’m not perfect, and it took a long time to realize: It’s not about me.
Guiding a student’s practice is an honor. You are a part of a very intimate internal process. As a teacher, you are privy to a student’s experience on and sometimes, even if never verbalized, off of their mat. Feeding the ego from your classroom is not beneficial to anyone. The goals of yoga and your students have to be kept in mind so that the process remains focused and pure. Time spent considering my own feelings and thoughts distracted me from my role of as an instructor and the experience and energy of my class. I cannot control what students receive from my teachings, but it is my duty to be present and to offer them.
Focusing on my clients only made me a more efficient and effective teacher. Practicing awareness allowed me to more accurately meet my students where they are at and feel what they need. It took away the burden of searching for evidence of progress. It also opened me to receive knowledge from my students. I am never the only person in the room with something amazing to give and transformative to teach. By making it about my class I was able to be a more selfless teacher, a more informed student, and a more compassionate person.
It’s All a Process.
The practice of yoga is often referred to as a journey and for good reason. It is absolutely a process. From the first stiff forward fold to the excitement of a first handstand, there are many steps and lessons in between. I continue to be amazed at what yoga has to offer and am humbled by its infinity. Becoming a teacher does not signal I have mastered anything. In fact, I am more of a student than ever. Helping others is simply a calling I have answered and a part of my development and progress towards healing and wholeness. A goal that, teacher or not, we are all striving for.
Guiding others to and through their practice is an important part of my own. In order to act as a channel towards the spiritual and emotional self for my students, it requires my continuous exploration of my own inner world. I am more connected than ever to my intentions, my body, and my breath- and that does not mean that I am at my best all of the time. Part of the process is recognizing when you are straying from your path and learning from it. Teaching others to forgive and accept themselves has helped me to do the same. It’s okay to mess up or not have all of the answers. My teaching certificate does not negate my role as a student. It’s all a process. I cannot wait to see what lessons year two has to offer!
Written by Kala Lacy