Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Positive Reinforcement

Tonight I taught my first public yoga class. And the one thing I can tell you is that it is harder than it looks. I spent the last two days preparing for my class. I designed a great series of poses, selected the perfect relaxing music and even made notes about all of the wonderful pearls of wisdom that I might be able to share with my students.

I was both excited and nervous all day. Mostly I was excited. The nerves really kicked in when I arrived at the studio. As I started to prepare the room, the first thing I did was test the music. When I plugged my kindle into the stereo, no sound came out. The receptionist came in to try and help me and we ended up messing up all of the settings on the stereo.

By that time, my students were arriving and getting settled in on their mats. I had to stop fussing with the stereo and move to Plan B. I turned up the volume on my Kindle and played music directly from there. Crisis averted!

As I introduced myself to each student and checked in to see if they had any injuries I needed to be aware of, it was as if I was inhabiting someone else's body. Even though the students had no idea that I was teaching my first yoga class ever, I still felt like I was playing dress up in my Mom's closet. 

The class began and it seemed like I was going through the motions of being a teacher, as opposed to actually being one. All of the inspirational language that I so carefully crafted in my mind turned into mostly a series of reminders to "focus on your breath" and "notice your thoughts without judgement" and "be present on your mat".  Not that there is anything wrong with those statements. They are all perfectly appropriate for a yoga class. I just wanted to give them more.

I guided the students through a well planned sequence of poses. I would say that the class design was definitely my strength. When it was over, they all got up and rolled up their mats as we made some polite small talk. And then they left.

Teaching yoga is not unlike going on a first date. You think the person is having a great time, but as soon as they walk away you start to question everything. As you replay the events of the evening in your mind you wonder if you shared too much or too little. You agonize over every word you said and whether it was the right thing to say. You wonder if they really liked you or if they were just being polite.

I couldn't help but have similar thoughts as my students walked out the door. I almost had to stop myself from shouting "Call me!"

None of the extensive training I had in yoga school could have prepared me for this feeling. Unlike the supportive environment of teacher training where each teaching exam ends in a round of applause, this was the real world.  There is no instant gratification of getting feedback on your teaching. There are no sharing circles to talk about your worries or struggles in becoming a yoga teacher.

In the real world, the yoga teacher is the loneliest person in the room. When you are a yoga teacher, it is not about you at all. It is about your students. This was the first yoga class I ever taught, but for these women it may have been the 100th yoga class they have ever taken. And when my class was over, they all moved on to the next thing in their life. 

As a long time people pleaser, I thought that teaching yoga would be a great fit for me. It is in my nature to focus on others and make them feel good. I guess I hadn't considered what I receive in return from the interaction.

It all comes down to a simple question that they asked us on our first day of teacher training. Why do you want to teach yoga?  It is easy to say that I want to teach yoga to share the practice with others or to help them experience the many benefits that I have gained from my yoga practice. And of course that is all true.  

But after teaching my first class I have to admit that on some level I was also seeking validation for myself. I walked away from a well paying corporate job and completely turned my life upside down for this. I need to know that it was worth it. I want to know if I am good at this.

As it turns out, if I am going to have a successful future as a yoga teacher, I might have to develop a thicker skin. And recognize that all of the ideals of self-acceptance and non-judgement that I speak about in my classes also apply to me.

Teaching yoga is just like practicing yoga. There isn't an end game or a final destination where you can finally say "OK, I finally made it. Now I am a great teacher."  It is a journey.

And just like dating, even when I walk away from the experience feeling like it was a total disaster, somehow it leaves me wanting to try again.


Anonymous said...

And now the selling begins.

Anonymous said...

Unlike dating, these people will not start or stop calling or put demands on you or try to make you into the person they want you to be. They may come back because they like you or like the time of the class and tolerate you. In either case you delivered the experience. Be secure in knowing that at least for a while you touched them physically, spiritually or intellectually with the ideals of self-acceptance and non-judgment (your words). You met your goal and the rest is up to them.