by Emerald Ralston
“I….. I just don’t think I enjoy teaching yoga…” I muttered to a friend, a fellow graduate of my 200-hour yoga teacher training. We were warming up at a studio of another fellow graduate, preparing to take class there, and I was contemplating her offer for me to teach there as well.
We’d all been teaching intermittently, subbing whenever we could and getting as much experience as possible, to attempt to bring to others what yoga had brought to our lives.
“Well, maybe you just haven’t taught enough classes, or you’re just not confident enough in the words,” she offered, in the purest, most encouraging way possible.
I allowed myself to sit with this suggestion, one I had considered several times before.
Maybe I’m just not confident enough. Maybe I just don’t quite fit the mold of the studios I’ve encountered or the students I have had in front of me. Maybe I’m just simply not a good teacher, maybe I’m just not good enough.
The doubt spiral took hold and didn’t let me go until I was halfway into Savasana. That is when I realized that it wasn’t true. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy teaching Yoga… it was that I simply didn’t enjoy teaching Asana.
When we consider yoga, in the West particularly, the first image to come to mind for most is the asana. The poses, the leggings, the catch phrases on the tank tops. But there is so much more to Yoga than that, Asana is only one of the eight limbs of Yoga. There are the Yamas, or the restraints and moral principles we follow. The Niyamas, or the positive observances. There is Pranayama, the breath work; Pratyahara, gaining control of the senses; Dharana, focus; Dhyana, meditative absorption; and finally Samadhi, or total enlightenment.
Anything that brings people to yoga is incredible, powerful and likely life changing, in my opinion, but there was always more to it than asana for me. In my YTT I wasn’t the most flexible, I didn’t know all the sanskrit names or possible variations of each pose, I wasn’t interested in perfecting the picturesque and beautiful poses that the other incredible yogis in my class excelled at as much as I was just there to move my body and spirit around.
But when it came time for papers and class presentations on the sutras, on the spiritual side, the academic side, I lost track of time and space. I connected with a side of me that needed to be awakened and I discovered Yoga. I discovered the yamas and niyamas, I truly dived into my breath, I sought the divine, I found it within myself.
Asana got me there, as it gets most people to yoga. Asana teachers are a gift, but not every 200-hour YTT graduate is going to be cut out for teaching asana, and I am here to tell you that is okay. I beat myself up for months, after spending so much time and money, seeing many of my fellow classmates moving on to teach incredible classes and truly find their calling in that. I felt the anxiety that yoga usually relieved for me creeping back, comparing myself to other people, wondering why I had failed. I even quit going to studios for class, only occasionally practicing my asana at home. My only connection to yoga on the surface seemed to be my daily spiritual reading and Instagram. My escape had become my prison, and everything that brought me to yoga wedged itself between us now.
Suddenly I realized I was no longer practicing Yoga. I snapped out of it with the help of my mentor and friends, and the spiritual foundation YTT had given me. I realized that even if I wasn’t arbitrarily teaching asana because that’s what was expected of a 200 hour YTT graduate, I had been teaching Yoga all along — even more so by following my truth that teaching asana was not for me.
I was reminded of stories of ancient yogis where there is not a single mention of Asana. Conversations that went well into many evenings about the impact yoga has had on the lives of me and my friends. This is because Asana does not have to be the focal point of yoga.
Teaching Yoga is reminding your coworker to breathe when they’re overwhelmed. Teaching Yoga is donating excess to charity because you are consciously practicing non-attachment. Teaching Yoga is setting boundaries to fill you own cup before you try to help fill others’. Teaching Yoga is living in truth and modeling that for others. There is so so much more to teaching Yoga than guiding someone into a pose with your words.
Grant yourself the grace you grant others if you are at this crossroads in your teaching journey and allow and trust your own path to guide you.
You might find that you can teach yoga in a different way, like I found that while I don’t love teaching asana, I do love teaching Yoga.