Yoga Teachers Struggle Too
Teaching yoga is about a lot more than a physical practice. Yoga teachers have to hold space for others — it’s a skill that’s difficult to describe. It’s about using your own energy, experience, and empathy to create a feeling of being safe, no matter what comes up; to create an environment in which people can come to move, breathe, and get in touch with themselves. It’s making sure that no one feels judged, and that if anyone feels vulnerable during their practice, they know that’s OK.
All of this space-creating and space-holding takes a lot of energy. When a yoga teacher steps into a group with a group of students, they have to be ready to help others into their practice; ready to give everything they can to create a sense of journey from the start of the class right up until the final moments.
There’s no sitting and mindlessly staring out of the window. When you teach a yoga class you are there, present, in every moment.
So what happens when you — the yoga teacher — are having a really tough time?
Life gets hard sometimes. Yoga teachers experience loss and grief; the end of relationships; the shock of unexpected events; mental illness and physical illness.
And when life gets hard, teaching yoga can be really, really difficult. When you don’t feel like you have enough energy even for yourself, it might be impossible to imagine walking into a room and supporting other people through their personal, spiritual, physical practice.
There’s no easy solution. There’s no easy way to let go of your troubles, and therefore there’s no easy way to teach yoga when you’re going through a tough period in your life. But if teaching yoga is your living —your source of income — you probably don’t have the option of stopping for a while. There’s no compassionate leave when you’re self-employed.
Here are a few ways to focus your mind and embrace your teaching when you’re not feeling on top of the world.
Let Go Of Guilt
If you feel that you’re not able to give 100% in your classes at the moment, guilt might start to creep in. It’s because you care; you understand how important yoga might be to the people who come to your classes, and you want to offer them the best teachings you possibly can.
Feeling guilty won’t help, though. It’ll damage your confidence and quieten your voice.
Every person in every one of your classes has (almost definitely) been through a really difficult thing in their lives at some point too. They’ve struggled to keep working, struggled to keep going — and your struggle is no less important.
But…letting go of guilt is easier said than done. Try to remember that not feeling great does not make you a bad yoga teacher.
It’s useful to remember that everyone who walks into your class has loads of other stuff going on in their own life. They might love your classes — but they’re not relying on you to improve their world. In fact, the chances are they come for their practice, and not for you. I mean this in the nicest possible way: you’re not that important to them. If you feel a bit rubbish during some of the classes you teach, it probably won’t ruin their personal relationship with yoga.
You don’t need to tell your yoga students intimate details of your personal life or your problems. But being honest with them about the fact that you’re going through something will allow you to feel more real while you’re teaching them — and it might add something to their experience.
The people who come to your classes again and again come because they get something good out of your work. Their practice is personal, and the way they think about it — and the reasons they do it — might be unknown to you.
But at the very least, they come to your class because they like the way you teach. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be some mythical figure — a human who never has a hard time?
So let them know that things aren’t great for you at the moment. Not by asking for their sympathy, but by telling them that you’re going to teach a heart-opening flow or a strengthening sequence because you’re going through something that means you need those kind of practices. And if you’re teaching what you need, you’ll really feel what you’re teaching.
That will come across in your classes. Embrace the fact that your profession is emotional, and that you are an emotional being; and allow yourself to come together with your teaching practice with honesty.
At worst, your students will feel a bit uncomfortable that they now know without a doubt that you’re not that mythical human who never has a hard time. At best, they’ll appreciate your honesty and feel empowered to speak up about their own struggles.
You’re Doing Really, Really Well.
If you’re managing to get up and get out and teach yoga classes when you’re feeling low, you’re doing really well. Even if your classes aren’t going wonderfully smoothly — and even if you want to give up.
Teaching yoga is demanding in ways that you only understand when you do it. It requires an awareness of others, and an involvement in their movements and their emotional state, which can take a lot out of you when you’re already feeling drained. Don’t underestimate how well you’re doing.
And if you do need some time off? Take it. I know it’s hard when it means not getting paid. But your wellbeing is as important as the wellbeing of the people you teach, and if you’re struggling to process the challenges you’re facing while you’re giving all of your energy to teaching, give yourself permission to take a break.
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