You know how those US Weekly magazines have a section called “celebrities – they’re just like us!”? And then it’s a full photo spread of someone like Ben Affleck going to the grocery store, playing with his kids at the beach, reading a magazine at a coffee shop, wearing baggy sweatpants to the gym, riding a bike, ordering food at a food truck, etc. The point is to break down silly barriers between the celebrities we put on a pedestal and ourselves, and I thought it might be fun to do the same thing for yoga teachers and students. (Also, I only read US Weekly at the doctor's office, okay? Don't judge me.)
In an age of many yoga teachers achieving celebrity-like status and the advent of visual social media such as Instagram, it’s becoming more common to assume that teachers should have it all figured out. Locally, in my own experience, a similar version of this occurs as well – certain teachers become “popular” for various reasons, everything from the fact that they are deemed “cool,” or known for teaching challenging flows or having a calming presence, and so on.
Before I went through teacher training, I did the exact same thing. I made TONS of assumptions and got really set in my ways about who I took class from and why they were deserving of my presence. (Ew, right?) I groaned when a sub showed up to replace my favorite weeknight instructor. I saw a male teacher and thought his style would be too physical, too aggressive. I wondered why anyone would take a class from a teacher who couldn't do the pose being described -- I mean, would you get your hair cut from someone with bad hair? Uh, no. I thought there must be only one "right" way to practice and kept looking for studios and teachers to convince me: hot, power, anusara, restorative, ashtanga, hatha, vinyasa, bikram, iyengar, kundalini. (See this link for a great little explanation of each.) When teachers messed up during class, I thought, He/She must be new at this. And so on.
Part of this is human nature -- we like picking favorites and having routines and cultivating opinions -- but here's the thing: as teachers, our main goal is to guide you through a safe exploration of your yoga practice. That can take many, many forms and involve physical, emotional, mental and spiritual components. The functional aspects of teaching aside, it's also true that students are drawn to vulnerability and feeling like they ”know” their teacher, because this builds a connection. But sometimes, that connection leads to putting teachers on pedestals and forgetting that they, too, are students of yoga and above all, just regular people.
So here you go: 9 reasons why your yoga teacher is just like you.
We feel angry, sad, frustrated, unhappy, distracted, anxious, confused and lazy.
For some reason there's this false idea that teachers are consistently zen, chill, graceful, hippie and happy. Nope -- we're human beings, just like you; we have a wide range of emotions and feelings. (We also cry, laugh, joke, gossip, complain, question, trip, praise and poop. And so much more! ) Teaching is absolutely a blessing, but sometimes we wake up at 5 a.m. or get home from work to go teach or feel under the weather and consequently have little motivation to show up and be a positive, creative leader. And yet, that's what we choose to do. Unlike our students, when we arrive to teach, we don't get to bring all our crap to the mat. We have to make the choice to leave it behind, turn it off, or use it, in order to be most instructive and helpful to you. Breakups, financial difficulties, layoffs, arguments with friends or family, loss, death, injury, difficult children, hangovers, getting cut off in traffic, stressful days at work, etc. -- no matter what has happened or is happening in the life of your yoga teacher, good teachers leave it at the door of the studio.
We struggle with time management and prioritization.
Yoga teachers -- how many times have you sped through red lights to make it to teach a class on time? Or didn't get other things done on your to-do list, or stayed up really late, or skipped happy hour to spend way too much time on developing class flows or playlists or themes? We've got lives, and it ain't always 100% about yoga. We'd love to practice two hours a day, drink some green juice, take a nap and then go shopping for new Lulu pants, but let's get real -- we have to make sacrifices regarding our yoga commitments just like you do. That's why we applaud you for showing up, because we know how hard it is.
We get stiff and sore and suffer from injuries.
Yoga teachers run marathons, practice Crossfit, take barre and pilates classes. Some of us are chasing little kids around or coaching or training or not getting enough sleep or dealing with recurring injuries. So when we hear you complain in chair pose and grimace in half pigeon, yeah, we get it. Oof. (Hint: this is why you often see a lot of teachers in class resting repeatedly in child's pose or skipping chatarangas.) We know how important it is to take it slow and be good to our bodies.
We don’t always love teaching the “fancy” stuff.
Students come into class wanting handstands and one legged crow and firefly and the splits, and sometimes, we want to say: teaching you to focus on your breath is literally THE hardest and most important thing we can do. You don't need fancy poses for a strong yoga practice; you need basic building blocks, and your breath. Sometimes the simplest classes are the most challenging.
We sometimes fall prey to the “teachers must be skinny and strong” myth.
We know this is a lie – hell, we see it in the bodies of ourselves and our fellow teachers. Soft, round, tall, short, wide, black, tan, white, male, female... all types of yoga teachers abound. But sometimes we, too, get to our mats, look in the mirror, and have a moment of self-criticism thinking we are "supposed" to be a certain shape or size or skin color in order to be a "good" teacher.
We meet significant others (and best friends!) through yoga.
Now this one is a hot, controversial topic, so if you're like THAT'S WRONG, okay, skip ahead. I find it surprising that the mentality around yoga teachers dating one another or teachers dating students is this big, no-no, shameful, secretive thing to be avoided at all costs... because it happens a lot. And oddly, there is no stigma around married couples who happen to both be teachers (I guess the assumption is that they got together before teaching -- I don't know.) In my opinion, it can be pretty similar to dating a coworker at the office. Any romantic relationship between two consenting adults is legit, in my opinion, so long as (I repeat) verbalized consent and respect exists. This is where things get gray, since there are many stories of teachers/students pushing past appropriate boundaries with students/teachers, or taking advantage of vulnerable individuals. All of that can quickly lead to serious, dangerous situations involving abuse of power or harm done. That's not what I'm talking about here.
I'm saying that, just like you, yoga is a home base for many teachers. We go there to see our friends and meet new people, and sometimes we develop connections that turn into great, lasting relationship -- of the romantic or platonic kind. It's cool to share the common interest of yoga with someone else, and we know that for some students, that's a big reason to show up to your mat. And if the hottie next to you inspires you to work a little harder in class, so be it. (Disclaimer: I did not meet my significant other through yoga, but I met a few lifelong friends.)
We aren't rich from teaching yoga.
Rich in spirit, maybe, but unless you DO become a celebrity instructor, most of us don't make a ton of money from teaching. For example, I have a full-time day job, volunteer responsibilities, freelance gigs, and more to help support my income and bills. Very few of us travel the world and teach full-time -- and trust me, that's a great, awesome goal and lifestyle choice for some, but not true for many, and that’s ok! Additionally, some teachers see teaching as a fun, side hobby, not an all-consuming passion, and that's also okay. There’s an expectation that every yoga teacher should LOVE TEACHING SO MUCH and want to make it their entire career. And yes, to a certain degree, you should love it – otherwise, why spend your time and energy on it -- but for some of us, a yoga career is not the be-all, end-all. Some of us want to teach and focus on yoga as much as possible, and some of us view yoga as a complementary component of our lives.
We wish yoga was more affordable and accessible for students.
I know, I can hear some teachers now: Julia, but it is! There are free classes online and at studios! You don't need special gear or a mat! Look, all of that is true. Yet… it’s still a financial commitment in some way. You do need workout gear of some sort. You need transportation to get to a gym or studio, or you need an internet connection. You need access to education about what yoga even is, or what styles are available to you, or how to do it with a disability or an injury. You need someone to watch your kids while you go to class. Etc. And while some teachers work tirelessly, in Des Moines and nationally, to bring more free yoga to communities, know that such endeavors take up a ton of time, energy, and yes, money to get going off the ground.
ALSO: all teachers agree that Lululemon is crazy expensive. Yes, it is functional and long-lasting in terms of workout wear, but we also usually get a discount, so there's that.
We are not all knowing, and we aren't perfect.
We make mistakes. We forget what we meant to say at the beginning of class. We mess up the breath on a Sun B salutation. We change our minds. We have circles under our eyes. We call you by the wrong name.
Yoga teachers are not perfect. Far from it. In fact, our imperfections probably are what led us to teaching in the first place. We are always growing and learning, about yoga and teaching and our students and ourselves. Just like you.