Teaching changes things. I miss my regular practice. I miss practicing at the same time every day. I miss practicing in a room full of Ashtangis. I miss getting daily assists into Supta Kurmasana.
But I wouldn’t change a thing about my life right now. I’m teaching nine classes a week, working on my Master’s thesis, assistant-teaching a freshman writing seminar at Butler University and doing some freelance writing. I’m my own boss. It’s definitely worth it, even if I miss the rhythm of my old routine.
I used to start my practice every morning between 6:15 and 6:30, and finish by 8:00. Now, I start practice at 6:15 on Mondays, 4:45 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:30 on Wednesdays, and 7:30 on Fridays. Sunday practice used to be the highlight of my weekend. Now, I’m lucky if I make it to one Sunday a month.
Everyone warned me that teaching would change my practice. I wasn’t unaware of the pitfalls. I consider myself lucky that I still make it to my mat at least five days a week, even if I’m practicing alone at a non-optimal time. I expected the interruption of routine, the shift in schedule, and the lack of adjustments.
I wasn’t expecting the positive effects. I go deeper inside myself each time I enter a pose now, because I need to memorize how it feels. I need to be able to describe it to students in a way that resonates and makes sense.
Feeling tension in bodies from adjustments informs the way I deal with tension in my own body during practice. I also notice my own little bad habits more, because I’m used to seeing and correcting them in others. I didn’t realize how much I tense up my shoulders in Virabhadrasana I and Utkatasana until I started helping students draw their own shoulderblades down their backs.
I also respect the practice more. Getting to my mat each day is such a gift. It’s time I have completely to myself, no interruptions, no obligations. On the occasions where I decided to sleep in instead of practice before I teach, I’ve regretted it by late morning. My bodymind operates on a better, higher level after I’ve moved through the set sequence of poses prescribed by the Primary Series.
I teach three Mysore-style classes each week. In two of them, I’m just substituting for my teacher while she does her annual pilgrimage to Mysore. The third is an intro to Mysore. I feel privileged to be trusted with another teacher’s students…and privileged that these newcomers to the practice allow me to teach it to them.
When I move around the Mysore room, giving adjustments or answering a whispered question, I feel honored. Each student is a set of brand new questions and answers that show up in their bodies if not vocalized out loud. By individually working with these practitioners, I am connecting on physical and emotional levels. It’s humbling. I hardly feel worthy.
It reminds me of the sponsorship system in 12-step programs. I’ve been sponsoring women since I was nine months sober. Now I’m approaching six years of sobriety and I still feel like I’m unworthy of the task. Who am I to show these people a path?
But I share what I know anyways, remembering what a friend says: “Sponsorship is just two drunks sitting across the table from each other.” In other words, there’s no elevated status to the sponsor. The sponsor learns from the sponsee, too, often even more than the other way around.
If sponsorship is just two drunks sitting across each other, then teaching yoga is just two bodyminds who connect through the practice. I can share what I know wholeheartedly and be honest when I don’t know.
I can keep practicing, even though practice is different now that I’m a teacher, too.
I can be present and serve as the channel through which the tradition of my practice flows.
I can be no more and no less. It’s a blessing and a shit-scary responsibility. For now, I feel up to the challenge.