September 14, 2016

Yoga Teachers: Stop trying to be “Authentic.”

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Yoga Yoda

I’ve noticed a growing trend in the world of teaching yoga: yogis have been gushing about the importance of being authentic.

Let me make this clear: yes, it’s important to be yourself—and yes, if you’re a yoga teacher, let your true self shine through while you’re teaching.

From all these blog posts and confessions about authenticity, I find myself asking the question: do we really have to try that hard to be authentic? What I’d like to define is what it means to be authentic, and why trying that hard defeats the purpose. Here are the points about teaching yoga I want to make clear to anyone struggling with their teaching identity.

You don’t need to be like someone else.

I think one of the biggest struggles I had as a teacher starting out was thinking I had to be like someone to be successful. There are big-name teachers out there with massive followings, and it’s hard not to want to emulate the charisma that got them there in the first place. The problem with that is there’s a shift from sharing your authentic voice to sharing what you think students want. Which brings me to the next point.

Avoid people pleasing!

People pleasing is a tricky thing. The minute one person is happy, the next will be disappointed. Any class will always be too fast, too slow, too hard, too easy, too silent, too structured…the key in all of this chaos and feedback is to focus on being yourself. Not everyone is going to like the same style of class, teaching, or personality.

I’ve gone to world-class teachers who I just couldn’t seem to connect with. Obviously, some people do connect with them, which is amazing, but it doesn’t mean that I should change the way I teach in order to gain the same level of success. In fact, some people will be drawn to the unique qualities that make my classes special. The way that I am different and comfortable in my own skin is one of the reasons certain students will keep coming back. And the ones who don’t? I wish them the best and hope they find teachers who do speak to them.

And finally, striking balance is key.

Every once in a while, I land in a yoga class with a teacher who might be trying a little too hard to appear edgy, funny or smart. I think it’s awesome to bring these elements into a yoga class, but to constantly be cracking jokes, swearing or spitting medical jargon will not make it a more authentic experience. In fact, it drives the teacher further away from being their true self by acting how they “think” they should be.

Outside of teaching, I swear occasionally and I crack jokes occasionally, yet I also have periods of deep silence, reflection, and a need for softness in my life. I’ll admit, when it feels right, I’ve sworn while teaching, and I’ve been known to make people laugh, but I don’t make that the reason anyone should set foot in my class.

Some teachers have criticized the use of the “yoga voice,” but I think this is the perfect opportunity to look at how balance plays a role in teaching. There’s a huge difference between the yoga voice and your yoga voice. You know that voice: the barely audible, monotone sentences with unrelateable metaphors and long drawn-out words. This voice will change depending on a) what type of class is taught, and b) the vibe of the class. With that said, a teaching voice should still be similar to a regular speaking tone. I like to think of it as talking with someone over lunch versus walking into a library. There will be points in class when the voice is normal and other times it’s stayed more mellow, like when students are coming out of savasana (the final resting pose).

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No one should be afraid to let their true personality come through while teaching. Letting go of the need to people please and tapping into the true self will help anyone get far in life. Resist the need to try to be authentic with in-your-face attitudes or anything that feels over the top. Let your natural brightness, your joy and your vulnerability shine through and students will appreciate the authentic experience.


Author: Emily Kane

Image: via Imgur & Courtesy of Author

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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