November 10, 2013

Maybe Being a Yoga Teacher Isn’t the Thing to do After All. ~ Stacey Vespaziani

I grew up in the theater world.

Year after year, teacher after teacher, I would find myself sitting in some dusty room attending a master class, or workshop, or rehearsal and hear one of my “betters” say, “If you can do anything other than theater… do it.”

I was offended, angered by the condescension of that statement. Like any pissed off teenager, I used that anger as motivation. I auditioned and got into the conservatory, was cast in the juicy roles, rehearsed, graduated and wrote the plays, started the theater company and produced the shows, entered the festivals… and was spectacularly mediocre at all of it.

And broke.

Maybe even a little broken.

My dream of life in the theater was looking more like life as a bitter corporate restaurant manager with a drinking problem—and some major student loan debt—who wrote play ideas on the back of cocktail napkins at two in the morning…while clutching a Grey Goose on the rocks.

It was during one of these (and there were many) vodka-fueled writing sessions that I finally realized what all of my mentors had been trying to tell me; they were actually trying to “save” me from the pain of reaching for something and not quite grasping it.

While I have come to appreciate their “warning” I wouldn’t change a thing about my journey (the stint as a chain restaurant manager and all) because it all led me to what I believe to be my life’s work: teaching yoga.

Now that I am a teacher of yoga teachers, I find myself in the same shoes as the teachers from my past (or bare feet as it turns out) and I am tempted to say the exact same thing:

“If you can do anything other than teach yoga… do it.”

Or maybe what I actually mean to say is, before one decides to spend the time, money and energy attending a yoga teacher training, consider these 10 things. Meditate on them. Chant about them. Sit with them. Move through them and then decide if teaching yoga is truly the right path to take.

1. It is harder than it looks.

It just is. Especially if you have been fortunate enough to practice with gifted teachers who make it seem effortless. I was blown away by this fact when I first stood in front of my teacher training peers and attempted to guide them through a simple Sun Salutation. My timing was choppy. My cues landed much less elegantly than I anticipated, if they landed at all.

The entire experience was humbling and I see this same reality unfold again and again each time I work with new yoga teachers. My advice: be okay with being okay, or even bad at first. If one can put ego aside right from the start then the teaching stands a real chance.

2. Do not phone it in.

Not ever. It’s not like that job where one can kinda just show up. I had a few of those over the years when it didn’t really matter if I was hung-over, distracted, or pulling an all-nighter; the lattes, or margaritas, or deli sandwiches would still get made and still taste good whether I was present or not. This is not that job. In fact, I recommend not even thinking of it as “a job” and instead consider it an art or craft. One that requires a person to show up at their best. Every time. When that’s not feasible, it’s best to find a sub, cancel class, whatever it takes to find your own balance before asking others to find theirs.

3. Don’t expect to be able to quit the day job.

At least not at first. I’ve seen a handful of people go directly from teacher training into a fruitful full-time yoga teaching situation, but this is the rare exception and is often made possible by outside support from a partner, family member or some other source. The reality is that most working yoga teachers are balancing their teaching with another source of income. This alchemy might remain in place for years or one might eventually fall away. Either way, it will probably take some time to sort it out.

4. You will have to balance your own yoga practice with your teaching.

Your teaching is your practice. Your practice is your teaching. If you no longer make it to your mat, people will eventually no longer make it to your class. Period.

5. Some people will not like your class… or you, for that matter.

It’s true. It sucks. The sooner this truth is embraced, the sooner one can become a better yoga teacher and a more well-adjusted human being. The good news: if you start sharing from your truth rather than trying to please everyone, then the people that jibe with you will show up…and come back.

6. People who you think aren’t as good at teaching yoga as you are will continue to get more teaching opportunities than you do.

And it has nothing to do with you or your teaching. Focus on what you are giving and keep creating space for others to give in their way.

7. It’s not about you.

The words that are spoken, the postures that are taught and the order they are taught in are for the students, not the teacher. Do not use teaching to prove how clever you are or to show how much you know about yoga. If your only teaching goal is to serve the best interests of your students, the rest will fall into place.

8. You might graduate from teacher training (after spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars) and decide you don’t want to teach after all.

And that’s just fine. At the very least, you will have a new relationship with your practice and you may have learned something useful about yourself along the way. You might even discover that you are better at sharing yoga in another way— maybe you found out that you’re a gifted assistant, or that you can play incredibly moving music to support a class, or that you want to share a part of yoga other than asana. Great. See where it takes you.

9. You may never teach at a yoga studio.

Most people don’t. The great thing about yoga is that it can be shared in your living room to just one other person, or in a baseball stadium to a crowd of thousands. The important thing is that it is being shared.

10. You might discover that teaching yoga is your life’s work.

But you won’t know unless you try. At best, you find your calling. At worst, you reach for it and get an awesome stretch in the process.

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Assistant Editor: Andrea Charpentier / Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photos by: Kelley Bedoloto}

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