This month marks my fifteenth anniversary of teaching yoga. Just three months before finishing my first 200 hour teacher training, I took over a class at the YMCA that had been taught by a veteran teacher, Hana Hofmann. These were big shoes to fill and I didn’t feel worthy or have clue as to what I was doing. I just stepped in and did the best I could through trial and error and being humbled every time I taught. Looking back, it was the best experience I could have had as a new teacher. I stayed for three and a half years and helped to build their yoga program by adding two additional classes to the one I started with. Teaching at the Y taught me how to work with all types of students – I learned how to see my students as people, separate from their physical issues and limitations, recognizing how we are all struggling with real life challenges.
Within six months of completing my first training, I was aware of how much I didn’t know about yoga. This is often the case when we embark on the path of teaching, and as a serious student, I had a burning curiosity and desire to learn, fueled by the humility I still feel every time I teach. It will be a lifelong journey with no destination. I still marvel at the mystery of the human body and the complexity of our psychology, and why we react the way we do to life, to the tough yoga posture, to the difficulties of relationships. I never tire of the thrill when one of my students makes a connection to my words.
Today I updated my hours with Yoga Alliance, a yearly milestone that is in some way an incomplete measure of my progress and experience. I look with disbelief – have I really taught that many hours? How many students does that add up to, and more importantly, what are all the stories and life experiences of all of those students? I think about this stuff. I care about the people that willingly walk into my classes. I take into consideration all that they are going through, along with remembering each individual injury or limitation.
With the amount of personal energy invested in my calling, I take umbrage with those that dismiss serious yoga teachers by considering them as fitness instructors, or fitness professionals. Those labels do not apply to what we do. I have watched the local yoga scene shift and change into something almost unrecognizable; to something I would name fitness entertainment rather than a practice that is meant to be mindful and help us to connect to something greater than ourselves. More importantly, my understanding of cultivating a practice that is sustainable and healthy over a lifetime, which goes beyond a passing trend.
Where I am today to mark this anniversary is not so far away from where I started as a nervous, self-conscious new teacher. Of course I know more about the practice of yoga, the body and how it works; I am more skillful at modifying my classes for everyone in the room, more adept at handling difficult situations that arise during class with challenging students. What has stayed with me is my intention of service and humility, that there is always more to learn. It takes a great deal of courage and personal integrity to stand up for what you know and teach. It is Old School. It is safe. It is effective. It is sustainable. That is the biggest lesson of my longevity as a teacher.