Over the many hours of yoga teacher training, I've learned a sh*t ton of techniques on sequencing, postural alignment, cuing, adjustments, you name it! But what I've had to learn (and continue to learn) from personal experience are these lessons that have been integral to my growth and success as a teacher.
Growing up as an introvert and creating fantastical worlds of castles and pirates ships made out of Lego was great for my imagination, but not so great for developing people skills. It was not until University that I learned in business school how to interact with others in a professional manner. Even then, it had it's gaps, as the way of relating was mostly out of self interest. "I need to meet this person, because then she'll introduce me to that person, and then I can get hired for that job, and it will look great on my resume. And if it looks great on my resume it will help me get this other high paying job and then I'll have lots of money. Success!" Truthfully, my experience with networking was a dreadful habit of shaking your hand, getting your business card so that I felt like I achieved something, and then quickly going back to the appetizer table and stuffing my face with disgusting Costco hors d'ourvres so that I didn't have to talk to anyone. I was still very uncomfortable with being around other people I didn't know.
I graduated and added a lot of friends to Facebook, but was still very scared of the world. I traveled instead of worked, and during my 2 years away, I learned how to really be with people. I learned how to hold space in a conversation, how to listen, how to give my authentic opinion, how to have a voice, how to understand and relate, how to have compassion, how to be present with another person. I am still an introvert at heart, but now I have some understanding of how to create deep relationships with my friends, family, intimate partners, and colleagues. In my experience, the essence of teaching is creating meaningful relationships with my students. A simple and powerful way in which I do this is, I go to each of my students and shake their hand to give a warm welcoming of their presence and ask them a few questions that help me discover who they are and why they are here. I'm passionate about community and it can starts from me learning a person's name.
As a teacher, going to student to talk was the most frightening and liberating thing I learned to do.
Yes, I went to business school, (and maybe I should have payed a bit more attention) but I feel most of what I learned about marketing and business practices, I learned later from trial and error.
I learned that sometimes a phone call or an in person meeting is better than a chain of 10 emails. I learned how to be "less" annoying on Facebook with the promoting of my retreats and workshops to people on the other side of the world that don't give a f*ck. I discovered what I'm worth as a teacher, converted the value that I bring to the community to $/hour and I am not afraid to ask for it. I taught myself how to create a website, newsletter and business cards for less than $20 a month. All of these lessons have been a fun, creative process that makes teaching rewarding.
I've often heard when conflicts between owners and teachers arise or when studios fall apart that the conclusion is yoga and business don't go together. Seems to be quite a broad statement. What do we mean by yoga - the cosmic bonding of body-mind-spirit or holding Warrior 2 for five breaths? What is the sole purpose of the business - the exchange of goods and services for profits or the mission of bettering the world - and are both possible?
I know that for me, the illusion of yoga and business not being able to come together surfaces when I've been out of integrity with my way of being. When I forget to show up to a class I was suppose to sub, when I don't start and end my classes on time, when I don't communicate to my managers my needs and desire for change, when I forget to sign in a student and it costs the studio $10.50 each time, I'm out of integrity, (the state of being whole or undivided). The practice of integrity is yoga. When I'm not present in my class and it's reflected in my teaching, the student feels their experience was not worth the $20 drop-in they paid, they don't come back and throw their hands up and give up on public yoga classes - and as an ambassador of yoga and it's future livelihood, I hold myself responsible.
A lesson I'm learning when conducting business (or being in any kind of relationship!) is to build trust by holding myself accountable when I've f*cked up, AND to hold others accountable when they've been out of integrity too. In these situations, I take off my business hat and put on my genuine, imperfect person hat and speak with honesty "Hey, that was my fault, I should have... can we consider doing this next time, I think this would help make things smoother."
It often ends with us hugging it out.
Self Reflective Skills
When I first started teaching yoga, I made a contract with myself. I pledged to teach yoga as a full-time job for 1 year and if after a year I was still living at home (nothing wrong with living at home!) and wasn't able to make a living from teaching, that I would then consider doing something else. This was necessary for me, because I know I could have easily talked myself out of teaching. For example - on the drive home after a class:
"Why did that student leave early? She's never coming back..."
"Was my music too loud?"
"Wow, he looked angry... what's his problem?"
"Oh sh*t, did I lock the door?"
"That was the worst class ever, why am I even teaching?"
"That was the best class ever, why didn't I start teaching earlier?"
"No one thanked me after class, what the hell???"
That's just crazy talk, ain't it! To the yoga students who think your teachers have got all their sh*t together, well, we don't, at least not in the first year of teaching. It's not until after hours and hours of teaching, did it start to sink in - my thoughts aren't true and resistance will arise in the form of self-doubt and sabotage.
Here are some reminders I tell myself when fearful thoughts arise:
- Not everyone is going to like my teaching, big whooping deal. I don't like everyone's teaching and that's totally normal!
- Just like there will be sunny days and rainy days, I'm gonna have good days and bad days of teaching, so don't cling to the results. Nonetheless, give your gift each day.
- A student is still a good person if they can't do a handstand, therefore, I'm still a good person if only 3 people show up to class.
- No one thanked me after class because maybe they're not feeling very thankful that day. Or I don't look very inviting at that moment, or they just don't feel like talking to me after class, jeez Leo, get over yourself!
Resistance is a denying force to strengthen the will and prepare the mind for life's next lesson. So I welcome resistance while moving forward, because its revealing to me there's an adventure ahead.
I continue to practice self-observation by asking myself the question: "Is this true? If not, let it go, if so, does this mean anything about me?
What I end up finding out is, most of what I think is meaningless...