Yoga Teacher, Break the Fourth Wall

When I started teaching yoga 20 years ago, there were no 200-hour teacher trainings, or official certifications.  It was an “immersion” into yoga history, principles and practices, one day of teaching a single pose to the group, and then namaste – you’re on stage.

Literally, in the studio where I first taught there was a stage. You sat five feet above everyone else, surrounded by Hindu statues and candles. You’d think I would have felt like a god.

But I didn’t. Far from it. I felt like a fake. I had not idea what I was doing up there. Sometimes, something interesting would come out of my mouth – but mostly, I felt like I was just repeating things I’d heard my teachers say.

My students would come in, sit, close their eyes, stretch, and wait for me to start. When I started, they didn’t look at me, and if I tried to get some feedback from their expressions I’d be in trouble – they either looked mad or bored or miserable. So I stopped looking.

After a while, I started to get the hang of it, and people seemed to enjoy class. But I had this immense feeling of loneliness. I was up there, or walking around, but still always above. People held me above them because I was the teacher. Yes, I knew some things I could share with them, but I didn’t know how to break free of this feeling of a wall between us.

Like a character in the play, I could never actually be myself. Or that’s what I felt.

Except… in my prenatal yoga classes.

Since I had not really had very much training in prenatal yoga, I felt like I was creating what I wanted to do with it from scratch.

And mostly, I wanted to connect.

I wanted to experience a real connection with my students. And it turns out, pregnant women REALLY love to talk about what’s going on!

I felt almost guilty about letting go of the formality of yoga, the “guru” tradition of a teacher on a pedestal, but it was so much more fun to become friends with my students.

Was I breaking ethical rules I wondered? Sharing parts of my life with them, connecting on a personal level?

I decided that as long as I didn’t share any unresolved challenge that would make them want to help me – because they were after all paying to be helped – it’d be ok.

I no longer felt lonely as a teacher. I couldn’t wait to see my mama friends. And oddly – if you ask me to this day some names of students I taught in classes at particular students, I’d remember almost none.

But if you ask me for names of pregnant students – I remember each “Mama Circle” so vividly. Somehow, a group of moms-to-be are drawn to be together and while yes, you lose your students as a prenatal teacher, it’s a really intense and beautiful time that we spend together. Each group has its own flavor and personality and I just remember so much joy.

When I decided to focus my life on teaching prenatal yoga and training teachers to do the same, it was in large part because of this.

It felt like I was making authentic connections. I moved down off the stage and sat in a circle with my mamas. And once I became pregnant my Mama Circle was a huge gift to me.

If you’re a yoga teacher, ask yourself: how much do you want to be on a pedestal?

If you are feeling pressure to be the perfect yogi, have the perfect body, think the perfect thoughts and be that person your students imagine you to be – who are you helping?

Certainly not them, if they think they have to keep working to get to the perfection that they see.

Certainly not you, if you feel the challenges and issues that arise make you somehow less than an ideal teacher.

In fact, it’s all your imperfections that can become the highest teachings, the most inspiring, and the most useful for your students.

It is time we come off the stage. Let’s be in the process of becoming with your students and give them the greatest teaching of all: that we are all ever-changing, ever-growing, ever-becoming.

Thank you for spreading the Ma love!

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