So long as you are having fun
On March 7, 2012 I taught my first yoga class. There were 27 people in the room including fellow classmates, my best friends, and well known faces around the studio who came out to support the girl at the Front Desk.
I was a nervous wreck. I felt like my heart was going to explode out of every and any orifice at any moment. I walked around the room reciting my cues I had studied so diligently, and adjusting people with the most humble and serving mindset that I could muster.
I just wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to share with people what yoga had given to me, and was shaking at the core for it to happen.
After class my mentor came up to me and said “Monica, that was beautiful! You love your students sooo much! You offer them so much support, so much care and attention! You just need to relax! You know all your cues, all the adjustments. You are an amazing teacher!”
“Relax? Relax!? What do you mean I need to relax?! THIS IS NO TIME FOR RELAXING!!! Did you see me up there!? I was a wreck! I flubbed my words during the second standing series! I let go of cues during Tree Pose and just counted breath! I am almost certain that the fourth person into the third row hated me because I stepped on their mat. How do you have no criticism!? How do you not have a list of things I’m supposed to improve!? I need to be told I was horrible because I FEEL AWFUL RIGHT NOW!”
Ok, I didn’t say that. But I wanted to. Instead I cried like a litle baby because tears were the only thing that could come out. I broke down that I thought I was a horrible teacher because I built up this idea of what a teacher should be, and I didn’t meet that expectation. Her response was one that would haunt me for months. “You have to get out of your own way, and be yourself.”
And so it went, class after class, feedback after feedback from my mentor, the owner, my friends, my fellow teachers. The content and design of the classes I led was not the problem. It was Monica. Monica, or the lack of her presence in the room, was the problem.
I didn’t realize how much of myself was supposed to be a part of what I taught and how I taught. “Be yourself”, “Get out of your own way”, “Be more human”. I hated the feedback. No, I loathed it. I despised what I believed it implied. That my inability to be a successful teacher was my own fault, that I was my problem and no amount of hours of study would fix it. I had such a high regard and honor for what I was teaching that I could not bear to think that the content didn’t matter. I refused to admit the character defined the quality of the class. To an extent I became insulted as the thought crept in that maybe I was being myself all this time, but that my character wasn’t good enough. In reality I was uncomfortable with my character. I was battling with a lot of insecurities and had spent the last two years upholding a promise to be more true to who I was, to the things I loved, and honor my dreams. Being told to “Be myself” made me livid, nervous, anxious, and every other self damaging thought there was.
A few months ago, I embarrassingly asked a senior teacher “When did you become comfortable? You know…with teaching. When did you become comfortable being you and not like, this idea of what you should be as a teacher?”
She threw back her head and laughed in hysterics - “Oh GOD honey. It took a whiiiiiiiiiiiiiile.” She sat down with me and I found myself laughing with her, realizing finally how ridiculous I was being. She told me that eventually you just stop freaking out because it doesn’t matter. “I was a wreck for so long and then I decided that all the freaking out wasn’t helping, so I just said screw it and went in and had fun. And that’s when things started getting easier but even then it was still hard. It just takes time. Look, when you decided to be a Yoga Teacher, you signed up to be a permanent student, you always have to study yourself which means you never get comfortable, you just get better at realizing its not that big a deal. You’re still learning, we’re all still learning. Don’t worry about it. Have fun, that’s all that matters.”
I decided to take a step back and look at myself. I still had work to do being comfortable with who I was, and once I admitted that, I could I think about being comfortable enough to share that with my students. I wasn’t ever going to get to a place where I was “ready” to be a great teacher. I was going to grow into one, and my students were going to continue to grow as well. The only one judging me, was me, and I had to let it go along with all of the ridiculous expectations for greatness I had laid out.
So I started doing small things in class: sharing my stories, my life lessons, sharing my music and my singing and doing it in a way that was using my experiences to teach the sutras, the gita, the philosophy of yoga and its stories. I wasn’t talking about me, I was talking about yoga, and it started to make sense. I started to connect more with my students, started to let go of the idea of perfection and started to play and have fun. I remembered a card my boyfriend gave me for my birthday last year, “Happiness is not a state to arrive at but a manner of traveling.” So I began to travel, and not worry so much about the destination.
Fast forward to today, and its been a year to the day since I taught that first class. Since then I’ve spent over 200 hours teaching and led over 3,500 students through their practice. I’ve led classes with 4 students practicing and classes with 70 students practicing. I’ve had horrible days and wonderful days. Days where I felt like I was connecting to no one, and days when students were wiping tears away throughout the class. I’ve had mornings where I can wait for nothing more than to get on the podium and share what I know, and days where I am vapid and simply want to lay in bed and get sleep.
I have good days and bad, because I am human. Because I’ve realized, I am a person just like the students who come to my class.
I have hopes, I have dreams, I have ambitions. And to be a teacher means you have to live. You have to look at yourself to improve the quality of life you lead. The lessons you learn are the things you share with your students, and the more honest you are with yourself, the more they’ll believe you when you tell them the biggest truth of all - In the end, it really doesn’t matter, so long as you have fun while you are doing it.