What it's really like to teach yoga
I have been teaching for 28 years. The journey teaching takes you on is as fascinating and rewarding as the one that practising yoga takes you on. Every teacher has their own individual experience based on their style, method of teaching, how long they have been teaching and who they teach. But one thing we all share, is the experience that sometimes a “magic” happens in class – a magic that is experienced by everyone in the room.
Being a relatively inexperienced teacher is hard. You are thrilled and terrified in equal measure. You're trying to remember the instructions, safety protocols, modifications. You are making moment to moment decisions about what and whom to correct. All the while trying to be clear, inspiring and compassionate. It’s intense mentally and emotionally.
It's also easy to feel rejected, ignored, disliked even (you aren’t! People are inherently kind, but yoga is hard and students are mainly just navigating that.) Your own insecurities can get magnified. If you demo people might think you’re showing off. If you don’t they ight think you can’t. You worry you went too fast. Or too slow. Or that you missed stuff out. You will be acutely aware of things you don’t know.
You learn to surrender all of it and move on. You’re here to serve. Care. Help. You take your attention off yourself and onto others.
You go through so many emotions in one class - rejection, appreciation, gratitude, self criticism, frustration and elation.
The senior teacher has a different experience. I am happy to report that eventually all of the ‘skills’ part of teaching becomes second nature. It’s all just ‘there’. You no longer have a single thought when you are teaching. It is instinct and sensitivity alone. You have no idea what you are going to do or say next. It just happens. It is very responsive and immediate. You feel what your students are feeling. They carry you on their wave..
In my experience, I find that the ‘work’ has become to orchestrate the energies of each individual and support them, while being sensitive to their signals and their own process. You give the technical instructions, correct misalignments and inspire and instruct, of course.
But yoga is more than that. You are connecting to each person's inner world. I often find myself doing the pose through their body so to speak, feeling what they are feeling. Someone is struggling, another is about to give up, another going too far. Several are in a dance with you directly responding to every word you say. You direct people to the breath, their own sensations, their feeling being.
The separation between yourself and the students becomes thin as if you were experiencing exactly what they are experiencing. It’s a sort of sci-fi style altered reality where you live for 90 minutes through the bodies, eyes and feelings of a group of strangers. It’s wild!
Like sunlight on a pond, yoga shows up everything that is swimming beneath the surface. And each person is being shone on. And whatever is not needed is being brought to the surface and purified.
All the messiness, the falls, the body’s complaints, the stiffness, discomfort, the wobbles, the doubts. Everything that arises in the yoga shala is necessary and perfect. The people who have taken the time and paid the dime to join you to share their suffering, sweat and joy are the shrine to which you have given your life. At some point in the class something great and pure and visceral arises and joins everyone together. A roaring silence of power and bliss. The suffering forgotten, the pose forgotten. All washed clean in the indescribable moments that make it all worthwhile.
I have realised that you cannot ‘teach’ yoga. The instructor simply facilitates people dropping into their natural, mindless state of union. The ‘work’ of the facilitator is to not interfere with that process.
I am certain that being a yoga teacher is as transformational as practicing yoga. It places you in a crucible, a fire of intensity where both teacher and students emerge transformed.
Michele Pernetta is the course leader of Fierce Grace Teacher Training. She also teaches in her London studios, on Fierce Grace TV, Fierce Grace Yoga retreats, and at studios and events all over the world. Visit: fiercegrace.com