There’s a Ziggy Marley song off his album Dragonfly that I love to play in class, and the message that he shares is just as much for me as it is for the people taking it.
“Got to be true to myself, ohhh got to be true to myself”
As a yoga teacher fresh out of teacher training, it’s easy to try to fit the proverbial mold.
Wearing the right outfit, teaching the popular sequence, repeating the same catchphrases that your teacher shares and browsing Spotify to find the songs that other teacher played during hip openers - are all too common - and normal.
Because we want to do what people like and what we assume works for a successful yoga teacher!
But at some point, we got to be true to ourselves.
As the song goes on to say, “I can’t make you happy unless I am.”
Being YOU is the Best You Could Ever Offer Your Students
Knowing yourself is key to being a strong teacher.
In fact, it’s so important that it is commonly referenced as one of the key teachings of yoga - Svadhyaya.
Patanjali even gave it its very own place in the yoga sutras.
Svadhyana is the fourth niyama, recognized as self-study as a way to connect with the inner self on emotional and spiritual level.
This learning acquaints the yogi with their ego and the deeper ego-less part of ourselves. The idea is that we intentionally find awareness in all activities - for the hope of learning and accepting our limitations.
We become centered and non-reactive, which leads to an open mind and liberation.
Do you know the phrase “Choose to respond instead of react”? That is the essence of svadhyana.
The path of svadhyana allows us to connect more deeply with ourselves with the goal of understanding who we are and why we do what we do.
That awareness opens the door that ultimately leads to inner peace and contentment.
When we are freely expressing ourselves and content in who we are, we are truly practicing yoga.
What Holds Yoga Teachers Back From Being Themselves?
Typically, we don’t want to rock the boat. Especially when we first start teaching, we want people to come to our class and enjoy it, share it with their friends, and grow our following.
To do that, it’s easiest to just keep doing what works.
Tried and true!
But eventually, a few years in - once you’ve gotten into your teaching groove, that can get really old, and you’re ready to fly your own flag.
This is important and necessary, because you staying true to yourself as a teacher means you will continue to enjoy what you are doing and not feel burned out.
I have seen teachers go down both paths and I can assure you, the ones who teach what is in their heart are those who continue to love sharing yoga and thrive as teachers.
Maybe you’re ready to dive deeper into anatomy and make your classes more focused in that direction, or maybe you love making amazing playlists and spend way more time on the musical direction.
Maybe restorative is your jam and you stop teaching your typical hot power flow and focus on truly relaxing people instead - a very noble pursuit.
However you choose to proceed, someone will be unhappy - but the important thing is making sure that person IS NOT YOU!!!
Being True to You Might Disappoint Some Students–And That's Okay
When your light shines, you might lose some of your old students but other (new!) people will be drawn into your orbit.
Since you are teaching what you enjoy - and they enjoy it too - it’s a better fit for all parties involved.
Remember that yogi favorite catch-phrase from a few years back?
Your vibe attracts your community.
I’m sure I have it printed on a tank top somewhere in my drawer. Keep putting out the energy and your people will find you.
When you’re teaching, you might have someone give you a strange look or not do the pose that you called out - or even walk out of class.
It’s easy to take that sort of thing personally in the context of you being the teacher and them being the student. It’s crucial to remember, everyone is fighting their own battles and it’s impossible to know what is going on in people’s lives.
Personally, I have left a yoga class I was taking for of a variety of reasons - dealing with an injury that flared up or a few times because my newborn was hungry and not taking a bottle.
I have had numerous occasions when people leave my class too - from needing to take a phone call to simply not vibing with my style.
Going to a yoga class isn’t like being at school - people are taking time out of their day and sometimes they have to deal with other stuff.
A big reason people leave a class is because they want it to be heated when it’s not, or not heated when it is.
So much is going on in everyone’s lives at one given time, it’s impossible for one person to meet everyone’s needs.
The bottom line is that it’s not about you or what you’re sharing. It’s about whatever is going on with them.
When we teach what’s in our hearts, it’s easier to let go of those feelings of fear or insecurity, as we know that what we offer isn’t going to be for everyone and we aren’t trying to please people.
Ultimately, our yoga practice is more than just doing the poses - and as teachers we steps that up another level and take on the path of being a yogi.
Truly living our yoga means embodying the teachings - and like Rumi says, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?”
Bear that in mind as you are teaching - everything that might upset you is an opportunity to expand and grow. Keep moving forward on your journey and stay true to yourself.
You have so much to share and your people will find you!