The 6AM yoga teacher
An uncomfortable truth about teaching yoga. By Brandi Rima
I noticed a missed call from the studio right after my plane landed ending a weekend trip with my daughter. My heart skipped a beat. Fresh out of training and having taught for only six months, a call from the studio turned me into a nervous wreck. There were only three possibilities: a welcomed schedule change, a lousy schedule change, or they were letting me go.
After driving home with my father-in-law chatting about the time he bumped into Susan Sarandon in an airport lounge, I called back. I knew by the tone of her voice that Kelly, a lead teacher, had an uninviting question to ask. “Will you teach at 6AM twice a week?” she asked and immediately rambled off reasons this change could be good. The conversation is a blur now, but I can still hear her say “It doesn’t have to be forever.” I asked for time to give it thought, politely ended the call, and then hung my head.
Early mornings did not jive with my cozy, long-standing 'coffee then yoga' routine. I did not believe that I had grit to make 6AM yoga work. This was going to be the start of a slow, painful death of my just now beginning teaching career. Would my classes be forever small? How many people opt for the mat when the rest of town was still hitting snooze? Even I, a dedicated student for over 12 years, had never been that yogi.
However begrudgingly, I texted Kelly: “Yes, I will do it. And thank you for this opportunity.” In the depths of my heart, I wanted to be a good teacher and even 6AM could not shake that. If this was the end of my yoga gig, I would go down kicking and screaming as the sun rose. What I did not know then was that 6AM was the exact type of discomfort I needed to become the teacher I wished to be.
Months later, a woman enthusiastically greeted me with, “Oh you’re the 6AM yoga lady I keep hearing about!” At that moment, I knew I had done it. I had figured out how to make this uncomfortable teaching opportunity work. 6AM yoga was somehow working for me.
The brutal honesty is that in the beginning teaching early mornings was as uncomfortable as I had worried. The grogginess was heavy, the word-stumbling frightful, and I was lucky to have one or two students rolling out their mats with me. There were days I wondered why I was doing this to myself. I already had a solid academic career and a husband and four kids. Did I really need this? If I was going to make it as a yoga teacher, then yes I did need this.
Those early mornings were transformational. At the break of dawn, I sat face-to-face with the truth that teaching yoga is not all Zen. Instead, it is mostly Zen sprinkled with moments of despair. I naively believed that people go to class just because yoga feels so good. Early mornings revealed the unrealistic optimism of this belief. To name a few reasons students with the best of intentions do not make it to class: oversleeping, not enough sleep, feeling unwell, feeling so great we do something else entirely, that cup of coffee is calling, it is a little cold outside, it is too warm outside, needing to get the kids off to school, the kids are home, and the yoga pants are not washed. There is a laundry list of reasons to miss class. The reason to go must simply be more compelling. What motivates us to leave a warm bed for a thin mat on a hardwood floor? It has not been forever, but I have taught the 6AM class twice a week for almost a year now. And the answer is social connection.
If community building was discussed in teacher training, it was a side thought. It took teaching at possibly the most uncomfortable time to learn that fostering authentic social connections is part of the job. Anyone making it to 6AM class is likely coming for something other than just squeezing in a workout. I had to create space for something more. I turned 6AM yoga into a go-to for community.
I started by letting go of my own grogginess to be my nine-thirty-AM-post-coffee-at-least-semi-extraverted self at six AM pre-coffee. I greeted all first-timers warmly with “Welcome to the 6AM club! You made it.” I got to know students, introduced them to one another, and encouraged conversation. I told Amy that Cait, the woman on the mat next to her, runs her own podcast about burnout recovery. I asked Lindsey about her tennis injury and introduced her to Martin who also plays. I commiserated with Allison about our ongoing laundry and kid woes. With each new bout of chatter, we built a community.
I extended social connections beyond the six to seven AM hour. I incessantly posted on social media about six AM yoga and how it was revitalizing my practice and connection to others. I nourished social connection wherever possible by speaking to anyone who would listen about the magic of early mornings. “We show up at six AM and greet each other like it’s nine-thirty AM. It is so special.” I told them. It took time, as all things in yoga do, but more people started showing up and connecting too. What was initially an uncomfortable teaching assignment is now super cozy.
Students still miss class for that same laundry list of reasons. But when they do roll out of bed for the mat, they know there is something even better at the studio. 6AM yoga is just as uncomfortable for students as it was for me. But yoga is the art of turning discomfort into comfort. We needed each other to remember this.