This week marks my last two classes as a yoga teacher for the time being. There's no need, of course, for me to write a blog post in order to defend that choice; however, as I've shared that decision within my circles of friends, I am noticing a few larger themes that I want to write about.
First, a little backstory. I started practicing yoga in Chicago as a stressed to the hilt graduate student amid romantic drama. I danced ballet for 13 years, practiced gymnastics for about 20 and overall enjoyed any type of movement that had an element of meditation and beauty to it. Competitive sports were not my jam, and neither were activities that involved additional props like a ball or net or stick. I liked only needing my body, and I liked the rules of a routine, so naturally, vinyasa yoga appealed to me.
Yoga relieved stress, anxiety and tension. It also helped me practice body acceptance and cultivate strength. Soon after I relocated to Des Moines, I started taking classes at a nearby studio. One of the teachers constantly suggested that I consider teacher training, and though I felt afraid ("Me? A teacher?") I also felt excited by the concept. I completed my 200-hour training, which I loved, and started to push myself to teach whenever wherever to whoever until I got a regular slot at a studio. At my most, I taught 6+ classes a week, and this fall marks two years of teaching at least 2 classes a week to anywhere from 1 to 50 students.
Teaching, to me, felt like a great honor and act of service. I always took it very seriously, and it brought me joy to hold space for people who wanted to practice on their mats. Plus it's fun, which is also very important! If you've ever taken a yoga class, you (hopefully) know that the asana, the physical element, is just one tiny part of yoga. Sure, it's great to stay fit and toned from warrior lunges and handstands; yes, it's cool to be able to bust out crow pose while hiking or at a party.
But it also changes your life, very slowly. I don't say that to mean that I personally changed people's lives, but the practice itself has a trickle down effect. If you show up, and pay attention to what's going on mentally and physically and emotionally, and notice your habits, and push yourself to stay through discomfort, and ask yourself to go outside of your comfort zone--you will change in some way that brings you to a more whole version of yourself. And then you do it again and again, because the practice is never over, and every hour on your mat mirrors what's going on in the seasons of your life, so there is always something new to learn and try and be.
So I taught, a lot, for about a year and a half, and then I got pregnant, and I still taught until I was almost nine months pregnant (obviously staying safe and smart while doing so). I took maternity leave from teaching for about 4 months (thank you to my studio for being supportive like that, which is super awesome). I was eager to return to teaching after having Ezra; I wanted to feel more like myself again.
And now, after about 6 months of being back to teaching, I decided to stop.
It took me a while to get to that place. At first, it rose up as a small, still voice, a little inkling that whispered, "You need a break." And immediately, I was like, no, I'm fine, I'm just tired, I'm just busy, I'm just finding my groove again! So the voice put its hands up like, alright, alright.
Then some time later, again: "You need to stop." Over and over, this little sensation piped up and made itself known, and while my ego came up with, oh, 25 reasons to ignore this suggestion, it quietly kept repeatedly itself until I . . . tried to listen.
I think the turning point came after I left the studio one day after teaching. The class went extremely well; I felt "on" as a teacher and everything clicked. As students trickled out, one by one they shared positive feedback about loving the sequence, the music, my style, whatever. And it felt good, of course, the way any compliment feels.
And then I realized that I did not really want to be there.
That, my friends, is the dagger. Teaching yoga is something that I love, and even so, I felt disengaged and distanced. I wanted to be at home with my baby, seeing his sweet smile. I wanted to be writing at my computer, coming up with a new story or essay to publish. I wanted to be on a date with my husband, reconnecting after long weeks of full-time work at jobs we both like very much. I also, oddly enough, felt jealous of my students, because I realized that I wanted to be a recipient instead of a giver of the gift of yoga.
All yoga teachers know that teaching takes up quite a bit of time; it's not that teaching one class a week equals one hour of work. It's more like, one class equals three hours of work. That all adds up. And for me, after having a child, though I wanted to keep teaching, I knew deep down that I needed those hours to be devoted elsewhere right now.
I didn't want to make this hard decision. It sucked. I talked myself out of it about fourteen times. I even told my husband, on a particularly confident day, to remind me of all the reasons why I needed to do this in the future because I knew that I would try to convince myself to make teaching work even though I also knew I needed to take a serious pause and step back.
My ego offered up more lies ("but . . . but") that swirled loudly, and I had to unpack each one:
- But teaching is part of my identity; it is part of who I am!
- But if I stop teaching now, I won't be able to do it in the future!
- But if I stop now, I'll be behind everyone else later on and I won't be good at it anymore!
- But I'm good at teaching!
- But it's a creative outlet!
- But everyone will think I became "that mom" who is only a mom and doesn't do anything else with her life!
- But I like it!
- But the students will miss me!
- But the students will like another teacher better!
- But the yoga community will forget me!
- But I'll disappoint everyone!
Even writing that list makes me laugh, because, c'mon, don't be ridiculous. I know these things aren't true! Let's break it down.
If someone asked me who I am, I wouldn't say "yoga teacher;" that is a meaningful label and role, but it isn't who I am at my core. Plus, once you become a yoga teacher, you are a yoga teacher; it doesn't just disappear from part of who you are. (Thank you to Sara for that piece of wisdom.)
Teaching opportunities aren't going anywhere; yoga has been around for thousands of years, and though it'll continue to evolve, it'll still exist down the road in some form.
Yeah, I'd have to relearn and practice and feel like a newbie again, but that is not impossible.
Being good at something doesn't mean you should do that thing.
One reason for cutting teaching out of my life is so I can spend more time on writing, which is my #1 bae, my main creative outlet, the thing I want to pursue more diligently.
As for students missing me, and liking another teacher better--dude, get over yourself; you're not that self-important, ha.
As for the yoga community, well, not teaching gives me a chance to be in this community I appreciate rather than constantly figuring out how to facilitate moments of connection for other people.
Also, what does "that mom" even mean? "That mom" is an unfair stereotype that you, self, don't even subscribe to! All moms are full-time moms, whether they work or not, and even if they choose to stay at home and "only" be a mother--that's amazing! Truly. Besides, you are not "just" a mom (which, again, that's a rude thing to think or say about yourself); you're a full-time employee, writer, spouse, sister, friend, daughter, niece, granddaughter, dog mom, person . . . you get the drift.
Finally, the disappointment thing? Stop being a people pleaser. Your purpose on this earth is not to live by other people's expectations.
Once I made the decision and told one of my managers, you know what I felt? Sadness, and relief. Change is always hard, and it sometimes breaks your heart a bit. Yet, it felt like the right thing to do, and I could feel myself already looking forward to the extra space and room in my schedule. This will not be a full end stop to my teaching path, simply an extended break to figure out where that path leads next later on.
I started to tell people about it, and the more I heard responses like "Good for you!" and "Way to listen to yourself," I thought--huh. Turns out this decision is actually not about teaching at all; it's about the fact that my body, heart and mind cried out for a change, and I listened. That is yoga. That is the whole point.
I will miss teaching, tremendously. Being a yoga teacher taught me to really look at and listen to people. It reminded me on a daily basis that you never know the battles that others are fighting, and it is always a good idea to be relentlessly kind. It forced me to find my own voice, and then refine it to better use it. It guided me to some of the best people I've ever met, true friends who are etched into our family, and for that, I am grateful. And it has allowed me to trust my own choices, my own path, more than ever.