So I Thought I Wanted to be a Yoga Teacher, Part 2

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to quit my day job and teach yoga full time?Remember when I did it anyway?

Well, I’m back to my original stance. I’m not ready to be a teacher.

I tried. Really, I tried. At first, I thought I’d teach mostly Vinyasa because I lacked the experience to teach Ashtanga. I made playlists (that no one liked) and sequences (that looked like the Primary Series). I taught Hot Yoga, Yoga for Runners, Yoga for Athletes, and Yoga for Writers.

I made more playlists (that were boring but non offensive). I added more classes. I even tried a misguided attempt to hold a Mysore class at a new studio, but it was only on the schedule once a week, so it didn’t really work.

At the height of it all, I was teaching ten classes a week, on top of teaching a freshman writing course as a graduate assistant and finishing my thesis, which happened to be a book. That’s right. A book. Don’t worry, though. It won’t get published.

I was overstretched, and it wasn’t from too much Paschimottanasana.

I had only been teaching for a couple of months, but I was already getting that, “Gee, I hope no one shows up today” syndrome. I felt like a fraud teaching Vinyasa classes. I didn’t do enough Vinyasa to be able to pass on that style of yoga, and I had a rude awakening when trying to teach Ashtanga but pass it off as Vinyasa.

A Vinyasa teacher came to one of my hot yoga classes to audition me for another studio, and after the class, she told me point-blank, “You can’t call that a flow.” She was right. I had no business trying to teach one thing and call it another. For the next few months, I went to Vinyasa classes regularly and played with sequencing and transitions for my own classes, but it never felt right.

I didn’t like teaching poses I didn’t have Sanskrit names for, like Exalted Warrior and Three-Legged Dog. I didn’t like wondering if my students dug my Disco Yogi Fever playlist. I didn’t like trying to remember what the hell we did on the right side, or thinking to myself, “what pose should come next? What pose did we just do? How am I going to close this thing out?”

I had to let go. I wasn’t a good Vinyasa teacher, and I didn’t want to be one.

My mentors told me to teach what I know, so I cut everything but two all-levels Ashtanga classes from my schedule. They’re led, but not counted in Sanskrit. Depending on my student population, we work through the Primary Series up to Triang Mukha Eka Pada Paschimottanasana, maybe through the Janus, maybe all the way up to a half primary. It’s better. I don’t play music, I don’t have to concoct a sequence. Why would I want to? Sri K. Pattabhi Jois already created a perfectly good one that I love.

But back to my original point that led me to teach Vinyasa in the first place: I’m not experienced enough to teach Ashtanga, and if Ashtanga is what I know, maybe I shouldn’t  be teaching at all. Ashtanga is best learned in a Mysore program, not an introductory group class. I worry that I’m teaching a bastardized version of what Guruji would have wanted.

I’ve been practicing less than three years. I’ve heard other Ashtangis say that Ashtanga teachers should have a decade of practice under their belt before they call a class to Samasthiti. I’m nowhere near that. I just got the first pose of second series about a month ago. I’m a novice. What am I doing trying to lead other novices through an intricate system of breath, bandhas, and drishti?

Maybe I should stop teaching until I have that decade. Maybe not. I don’t know the right answer.

I guess I should have titled this post, “So I thought I wanted to be a yoga teacher, but I secretly did, and now I know that I really didn’t and I’m confused.”

Teacher training cost me $3,000 and 200 hours of my time. When I get angry at myself for dropping that cash and time on a teaching certificate, only to consider never teaching yoga, I have to work hard to remind myself that it was worth it. Not financially. Hell no. Not even a little bit.

But it was worth it to learn that I know nothing. There’s real value in that. I’ve actually been happier since I acknowledged the fact that I may not know enough to teach this stuff. My practice has gotten stronger, and I’ve gotten more dedicated to the Ashtanga system. It must be because, according to Socrates, “the only true wisdom lies in knowing that you know nothing.”

If Socrates said it, it must be true.

9 thoughts on “So I Thought I Wanted to be a Yoga Teacher, Part 2

  1. I hear you!
    Just to add to the last bit, about whether it was worth doing a TT — it also certainly depends on the TT. If it is focused explicitly towards “this is how you teach people” it is one thing. If it is focused on ‘this is how you do your inner work so that you can share it better” is something else.
    I saw the distinction quite clearly as a dear friend of mine and I took two separate TTs simultaneously, each focused on the different axes. What one lacked, the other had. I’m glad I took the ‘inner work’ one, also precisely because of some of the reasons you state.
    So, we keep practicing 😉
    Best,
    Shaz

  2. Oh, dear one… A nice post. Guruji might say , “why you hurry?” Just keep practicing… And truly it does all come! And a basic teacher training, non-Ashtanga, is very good for a foundation in all types of yoga and anatomy etc. All will be well….

  3. So I am late to this post but I like your teaching and learn from you. I prefer Ashtanga to the emotional/pyschological bleeding some teachers do to the class during Vinyassa classes.

    Not much wisdom or anything deep to say other than I like your teaching and I get something from it. Will be there more often after cycling season is over.
    Best
    JH

  4. Funny that I’m coming across this blog having practiced for almost about the same time – started out with Primary about 2 1/12 years ago and recently started working through the second series up through Kapotasana A+B (about 6 mos ago).
    I’m sort of reading your blog piecemeal and I read some stuff about your injury – where did your IG go? Are you still practicing? How’s your injury doing?
    I would love to teach at some point (nowhere near broaching that journey other than considering a trip to Mysore in a year or two) but I feel the same way about vinyasa flow. I like taking those classes as hot yoga and it’s a nice change of pace, but they’re not my main practice, have zero desire to play music when I’ve basically been seeded with just a mat and a teacher in my practice, etc. etc. Like you I feel like I would be so overwhelmed trying to teach an ashtanga class like my own teacher does (not to put words in your mouth). But just like I wouldn’t know WTF I am doing.
    Love to hear an update or a referral back to posts that I maybe somehow missed in this journey. Thanks much.

    • Hi cc. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m currently not teaching any yoga at all and my injury has improved, thank goodness. I’ve removed myself from most social media, because I mostly just used it to promote my yoga classes, so I’m not on IG anymore. I wish you all the best in your practice and navigating the desire to teach a method that means so much to you. I know it was (and is still) a complicated issue for me, made only more complicated by the current cultural perception of yoga as well as my own confused motives for teaching. I wrote an article for Ashtanga Dispatch that describes my eventual decision not to teach yoga at all, so check it out at the following link if you’re interested in reading more. http://www.ashtangadispatch.com/returntonature/

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