I graduated from my yoga teacher training program one year ago in September. I can hardly believe it. It’s gone by incredibly fast, I’ve learned a ton and I still have oh-so-far to go. One of my favorite things in the past year has been talking to other teachers and trainees about our experiences, our challenges, our brilliant ideas and solutions, our beliefs about yoga, and our perspectives on teaching.
As I began to gather ideas for this blog, I realized that this would be a great place to continue that conversation. I hope that some of you will join me here to discuss yoga, teaching and the challenges of being a brand-spanking-new teacher.
It makes sense for me to kick things off with a post about my personal history with yoga and how I (accidentally) ended up becoming a yoga teacher. So here we go!
Me and yoga didn’t really mix at the beginning. Going all the way back, I did yoga for the first time in dance classes (was it high school or college?) where it was presented as a method of stretching and toning the body. I knew there was more to yoga than just that aspect but, honestly, I thought the rest of it was new age mumbo jumbo. And, compared to dance, it felt a little repetitive and a lot boring.
When I went to graduate school (for graphic design) in the suburbs of Southern California, I couldn’t find any good dance classes nearby so thought I’d try yoga again as an alternative to dance. It was an OK substitute, though I still didn’t understand what the meaningful benefits were and what the hype was about (why are so many people SO into yoga?).
Until, that is, I started to struggle in my grad program with stress, low self-esteem, anxiety, and panic attacks. During that time, yoga became an oasis for me. A place to go where I could step away from all the pressures that surrounded me everyday, where I didn’t have to “achieve” anything, and where I could both feel like part of a community and be in my own space. It helped me keep my anxiety in check and gave me simple tools to call upon when I needed the support.
So phew! I made it through and yoga stuck, though it mainly stayed in the background of my life.
Fast-forward to February 2013: My now-husband-then-boyfriend and I had recently moved to Menlo Park, CA. I had cobbled together two part-time graphic design jobs for myself and we had settled into our new home and new routines. And... I’ll put it this way: I think every college grad goes through a phase when they realize that — even though they knew to expect this giant cliché — their chosen profession suddenly looks very different from what they studied in school.
In my case, there was a huge gap. I wasn’t feeling very intellectually stimulated nor very inspired by the projects I was working on. I missed being able to investigate and explore, to talk theory and concept, and to be self-directed and challenged. I started to daydream about signing up for a yoga teacher training as a way to inject excitement and learning back into my life.
It was something that had been in the back of my mind for several months but didn’t feel like a real possibility. Something just felt right that spring and, almost on a whim, I decided to sign up for Avalon’s program. I looked at several programs in the area but I chose Avalon because of their scientific focus and the diversity of instructors.
At the beginning of the program, when asked if I planned on becoming a teacher, I responded with a definitive “no.” But if I could go back to that moment with all of the self awareness and confidence that I have now, my answer would have been “absolutely.”
Deep down, I knew I wanted to teach but it felt really far beyond my reach. I felt like I had too many things to overcome: shyness, low self confidence, lack of knowledge and experience...
So how did I get to where I am now, teaching “full time”?
Well, a lot changed within just the first 6 weeks of the training. Kelly McGonigal taught most of our classes in that time and she immediately dispelled a lot of the myths floating around in my head about the prerequisites of being a yogi. She washed away all of my worries about not being hardcore enough, or flexible enough, or spiritual enough, and essentially told us all that yoga is all about you. It’s a personal journey and the first principle of yoga is to “Start where you are.” It was such a simple shift in perspective, but a crucial one for me.
Kelly put into words all of the things that I loved about yoga but couldn’t identify on my own: the welcoming environment and the sense of acceptance that you find in a good yoga studio, the self inquiry (if there’s one thing I love, it’s introspection), and the idea that practicing yoga means living your life with mindfulness, integrity, and full self-expression. This simple shift in perspective changed everything for me. I felt like a reset button was pushed.
One of my favorite definitions of yoga is that it’s a practice that restores us to our natural state of wholeness and balance. It shaves away everything that we don’t need but that we collect over time: our fears, insecurities, trauma, pain, and un-inspected beliefs. I felt myself being cleansed of all that junk as I became more and more serious — and in some ways more and more relaxed — about my yoga practice. (Not that those things don’t still exist and visit me daily, but my relationship to them has changed greatly.)
After that, I had the courage to admit to myself that I was really interested in teaching. I began teaching as many of the free classes at Avalon as I could and spent extra time studying and practicing outside of the training. Even though teaching was really hard and crazy scary at first (wait, isn’t it still?), it felt like a natural fit.
After the training ended, a couple of teaching gigs fell into my lap and I said “yes!” to each and every opportunity to teach or sub that was offered to me. Pretty soon I had four regular classes and then six (at which point I decided to switch to yoga at the center and graphic design on the side) and then nine each week.
As teaching became a bigger and bigger part of my life, I was surprised to discover the many ways that it fulfills and balances me. It capitalizes on all of my strengths and it challenges me to grow in the areas where I’m weak.
I find that in order to teach in a genuine way, I have to live my yoga on a daily basis. For me, this means being mindful in all aspects of my life and including simple physical, mental and spiritual practices throughout my day. That mindfulness has led to a few more benefits (and requirements, by the way) of teaching: more self acceptance and trust. Who could complain about those side effects?
One of the things I love about graphic design is that being creative and expressive is built right into the job. When I started teaching yoga, I didn’t know to expect the exact same thing from being a yoga teacher. I get to exercise that creativity and self-expression just as fully, if not more so, in many ways while I plan sequences and themes for class, when I’m actively teaching in front of the class, and when I’m working with individual students to answer questions or investigate something before or after class.
The last thing I’ll note that’s awesome about teaching yoga is that yoga is something that I believe strongly in and feel good about spreading. Even though there are many selfish reasons that I teach, I can honestly say that I also love helping others through yoga. I’ve gotten to see the positive physical, mental and spiritual benefits of this practice in myself and my students and I believe that yoga has substance and relevance for everyone, no matter their background, age or skills. It’s incredibly fulfilling to believe in the big picture of what you’re doing, especially when the day-to-day has its challenges.
And now a year has passed and while I’ve grown immensely, I’m still finding my groove. There are so many facets of teaching that feel overwhelming on an almost-daily basis, but at the same time, that’s what makes being a yoga teacher so engaging and fulfilling. And it’s why I can see myself doing this for a long time to come.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about why I chose to teach yoga and what makes me still feel excited about this job a year later. I think that I actually have a pretty common story and I’d love to hear yours, whether you’re a teacher, thinking about becoming one, or just have something to share.