My name is Hala. I am a yoga teacher. I am co-dependent and needy.
I had to admit this to myself in order to grow as a teacher and step into an authentic leadership role.
If you are a teacher of any kind, you have to do this too.
You see, I wasn’t a cool kid. I had frizzy hair, a strange name (no “Hala” is not a spiritual name I picked up in my 20’s—it’s a Lebanese name that I dreamed of changing, to Julianna or Irene, for most of my adolescence) and I never fit in.
When I started teaching, it was the first time I felt really accepted by a large group of people. For a long time, I unconsciously got my need to feel accepted and liked met by my students. When I realized that my inner 12 year old was (partially) motivating me to teach, I had to examine it, unpack it and tend to the part of me that was in a lot of pain.
It is a particular type of person who wants to become a yoga teacher; not everyone is interested in standing up in front of a group of strangers and telling them what to do with their bodies and their breath. Not everyone is interested in being a teacher or a healer.
Yet, for many of us who teach, we can’t imagine anything more fulfilling.
I’ve been training yoga teachers for over a decade now and I have seen that many of us have similar life experiences and issues that motivate us to teach.
Here are some of the common themes I have noticed in people interested in being yoga teachers—see if any of them relate to you (or your yoga teacher):
1. We had a parent that suffered from depression or mental illness; as a result we can be extremely empathetic and attuned to others, sometimes to a fault.
A child with an unavailable or unpredictable parent had to learn to tune into their parent in order to assess if their environment was safe or if their needs were going to be met.
As a result of that, we develop a keen sense of tuning into the mood and state of others, often at the expense of being tuned into ourselves. As teachers, our students often feel that we are speaking directly to them in a group class, or that we are intuitive about what others are going through.
It comes naturally to us to empathize and want to meet the needs of others. It does not, however, come naturally for us to ask for what we need.
2. Felt like they didn’t belong as children or adolescents and have a need to feel seen by others in a positive light.
Yoga teachers get to be the popular kid. Our students listen to us, like us, and often idealize us. This feeds the part of us that didn’t get that type of mirroring in our youth.
We are good at getting others to like us, but if our teaching is motivated by our need to be liked, we might limit some important lessons that our students need which may make them uncomfortable.
3. We can have a hard time setting boundaries and get overly invested in wanting to help others.
This is probably due to #1.
You see, if my inner child didn’t have her needs met by mommy or daddy, I’m going to seek out people who have similar limitations/dysfunctions and try to fix them so that I can feel in control. Since I’m so good at tuning into someone’s pain, those people feel comfortable opening up to me because they feel seen by me.
I feel good because I’m they respond to me and listen to me (unlike my parent).
4. We need validation from others and will go to great lengths to ensure that others like us and even idealize us.
For those of us who really didn’t get much positive regard from our parents, we might become they type of teacher that thrives on the attention and adoration of our students.
We will also do whatever we can to make sure that no one questions us or sees our shadow side. We’ve all seen these folks—they’re charismatic, charming and often totally narcissistic.
They may claim to be above everyone, and somehow have transcended normal human challenges, they may subtly shame students in order to maintain a sense of power over them, some even claim to possess secret powers and abilities.
You may have other issues other than the one’s above, but in my decades of doing therapy, yoga trainings and transformational work, I have learned one important thing: our wounds are often the source of our gifts, and if we don’t investigate our wounds, they will get in the way.
This is true for any profession, but particularly important for those who hold space for others to be vulnerable. It is our responsibility to do our personal work, otherwise, we can cause harm to those who are trusting us with their bodies, minds and hearts.
I love teaching yoga, and I have spent a lot of time tending to my own wounds so that they don’t get in the way of my teaching. This work is never ending and I’m constantly having to see my own blind spots, biases, limitations and fears.
Each time I courageously face these parts of myself that I’d rather stuff into a closet, I find that my ability to hold space for others gets stronger, and I’m able to see others for who they are without judgment.
If you teach yoga or hold space for others in any way, it is vital that you have a space that someone else is holding for you—a space where you get vulnerable and are seen; a space where you are held accountable and get nurtured in a compassionate way; a space where you can shed the teacher role and receive.
This way you can be empathetic not enmeshed, supportive not diminishing, empowered rather than oppressive and compassionate rather than needy.
Hala Khouri, M.A. E-RYT is a somatic counselor and yoga teacher. She leads a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training called Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind, and is co-founder of Off the Mat, Into the World®. To find out more, please visit her website.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise