We Are All Human Beings
Yoga teachers are regular humans who experience trials and tribulations just like every other regular human. The difference is, as yoga teachers, our job involves standing up in front of groups of people, calm and collected, guiding students to a place where they can feel more grounded, at peace, and connected to themselves.
Guys. The struggle is real. When we, as yoga teachers, are dealing with something really hard, how the hell do we show up and be strong for others when we can’t seem to even be strong for ourselves?
How do you teach yoga when you’re going through a divorce? How do you teach yoga while your mother is dying? How do you teach yoga when your kid has cancer? How do you teach yoga when your house burns down and you lose all of your belongings, and your dog?
Just because we practice yoga and meditate doesn’t mean that painful experiences are any less painful. There’s no quick and easy fix to deal with life and it’s curveballs, even when we have all the tools.
In my 31 years here on this planet I’ve had my fair share of adversity; all of them while still teaching yoga. I have some very real experience on how to continue teaching while also dealing with life, so here’s what I’ve learned.
Take Time Off, But Not Too Much Time.
It’s so important to give yourself some grace and space. Honor your pain and emotional state, and allow yourself time away from teaching. Be gentle with yourself. Process your emotions, experience your heartache, but don’t dwell on it for too long.
Returning to your classes too soon can result in prolonging your healing process. Waiting too long to come back to teaching just makes it harder. There’s a fine line, a balance; and only you can possibly know when you’re ready.
Sometimes you might not feel ready, but getting back to teaching is an effective way of distracting yourself from your own personal sorrows. You have to be present for your students which makes it easier to detach (even if it’s just for an hour) from the hard stuff.
Chances are if something terrible has happened or you’re just going through a hard phase, people are going to want to offer you support. Let them support you. Show up for them and they will show up for you in ways you didn’t expect or know you needed.
Give Yourself Plenty Of Time Around Your Teaching Schedule
One of my teachers, Shiva Rea, gave me this advice after my house burned in a fire and I lost everything, including my dog. What I went through after the fire was traumatic and unbearably painful. I couldn’t imagine standing up in front of 40 people, with a smile on my face, telling them to breathe and that everything was going to be alright.
I asked Shiva if she had any advice about how to ease myself back into teaching, and she just said, “slowly”. “Be gentle with yourself,” she said. This advice was invaluable. She suggested that when I was ready to start teaching again to leave myself plenty of time before and after each class.
Like, don’t agree to teach back to back classes, and then have a coffee date with your friend, and then go to teach a private. Ease into it. Don’t leave your house frantically. Take lots of time to get to the studio. Leave time to settle yourself in before your class starts. Leave time to go home and just relax after you teach.
Leave space around everything you do. Don’t overcommit yourself. Eventually it will become easier and you will be able to commit to more, but in the beginning, allow yourself the space you need to adjust.
Be Open About What’s Happening Without Being Over Indulgent
The nature of our job as yoga teachers is public. We are seen by our students, we are known in our communities. We have individual relationships with many different people, and that means these people likely have a general idea of your life, especially the regular students we see weekly, or maybe even daily.
You’re probably not going to be able to hide the fact that your mother just died of cancer, and there’s no reason to try. There’s a way to be open and transparent about what we are dealing with, without making it self indulgent and over sharing.
If you feel comfortable, you can use what you’ve learned from your experience and apply it to your teaching, but you don’t need to obsess over it. You can give examples of how it relates to yoga and what you’ve learned, but if you just start talking about all the bad shit that’s happened to you and how you’ve overcome these things, it starts to sound really self involved. I’ve been in classes where a teacher has done this, and what ends up happening is the lesson gets lost. It becomes more of a “me me me” story rather than an opportunity to share a valuable experience with students.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
This is the most important step. You Cannot Stop Practicing. Do you remember all the reasons you started practicing, and probably teaching yoga in the first place? There’s a really good chance that yoga brought a sense of peace and grounding into your life. And when we are processing painful, traumatic, heartbreaking, unbearable experiences, we cannot stop showing up to our mats.
It’s the days that you don’t want to practice, that you need this practice the most. The importance of maintaining a consistent practice through hard times could be an entire article on it’s own.
When I say you need to show up on your mat, I don’t necessarily mean you have to go to a yoga studio and power through a demanding vinyasa class (although that could very well be what you need). I’m saying just get on your mat whether that’s to sit and breathe in childs pose for 20 minutes, or to do 100 sun salutations. Or anything in between.
Our practice, whatever that looks like, is where we connect to ourselves. And one of the most valuable tools yoga offers us is this process of peeling back the layers of who we are on the surface, so that we can figure out who we are in the depths of our souls. It’s a mechanism for healing. It’s a vehicle that can transport us to a place of grounding, when everything else around us feels shaky and unknown; our mats are home base.
Keep showing up. Keep breathing. Keep teaching. Keep searching and connecting to who you are underneath the surface layer and under all the pain and discomfort.
Our mats are a place of solace. Give the practice time to work it’s magic, and with time and intention, you will once again be right where you need to be.