I have been a yoga teacher for eight years. I have had some exhilarating times and some heart-breaking trials. Like anything in life, my yoga practice and my teaching has had highs and lows. In the beginning, every time I taught a class, I was on cloud nine. I left the class feeling as good if not better than the students I taught. I felt exhilarated, uplifted, accomplished, and joyful. I had found my groove, my path, my calling.
I always thought that once you had found what you love to do, hardships never came again and life would be easy and uncomplicated. This is true to a degree, but doing what you love isn’t separate from life and so can’t be completely free from the challenges that naturally arise. For the first 5 years of my teaching career, I taught 1-2 classes a week as a weekend passion. Then an opportunity presented itself to open my own studio and I couldn’t resist. I went from teaching 1-2 classes a week to teaching almost 80 classes a month. In what seemed like an overnight shift, yoga became everything. Not in the way I had envisioned – the 3 hours of uninterrupted meditation each morning, strictly Ayurvedic diet, traveling to India, doing what I love kind of immersion. It ended up being grueling 14 hour days away from home, constant computer time, cleaning clogged toilets, going 2 weeks without taking a yoga class kind of immersion. It was hard, it was fun, it was gut-wrenching, and it was new.
Two years into teaching 15-20 classes every week, things had become a little less exhilarating. The joy of teaching, while still there, had become a little harder to feel. Like most things that we do repetitiously, my teaching shifted to autopilot. While this can be somewhat of a necessity to reserve our physical energy and mental fuel in stressful times and preserve our sanity when we are all too quickly depleting it – it is not the ideal place to teach from.
One day, I was beginning a class and, as I do from time to time, asked if there was anything anyone would like to work on or focus on in the class that day. In my head were the usual things, hamstrings, sore backs, tight hips, shoulders, etc. However, I heard something that completely shifted my brain and jerked it right out of autopilot into the present moment. "How about encouragement," one of the students said. It was like someone had just slapped me in the face. She had just given me a wake up call. That YES! DUH! Get it, got it, thank you kind of wake up call. I had gotten lost in the repetition of teaching and had started missing the point of the yoga practice. It can be all too easy to get stuck, and become boxed in by our thoughts and patterns. Getting stuck in our habits happens to the best of us and even happens to our free-spirited, tree-hugging, kind-hearted, fun-loving, yoga-teaching selves. Her comment was my reminder that YOGA ENCOMPASSES EVERYTHING. Not just triangles, dogs, cats and cobras. Not just hamstring length, spinal flexibility, and core strength. Yoga is also the practice of truthfulness, clarity, motivation, compassion, and, yes, encouragement. Teaching yoga gives us the opportunity to teach all of this amazingness but sometimes we forget. We get wrapped up in teaching postures, good alignment techniques, shapes, and the distraction of our own personal stuff. We let ourselves become boxed in by the very thing that has the power to free us.
My student’s innocent remark was a reminder for me to always be mindful and have those “check in” moments with myself every so often to make sure that nothing ever goes into autopilot mode. I strive to teach, lead, inspire, love, connect, and change lives as a yoga teacher. No matter how long we have been doing something, how good we are at it, or how well educated we are, there is always more room to change, learn, grow, shift, and be more aware.
I encourage you not just to teach shapes.
Encourage your students to be their best selves in all aspects, not just the physical. Be in the zone, present to all the possibilities that present themselves and be open to teaching something other than stretching tight hamstrings. Just as we remind our students to let each moment, each pose, and each breath feel new, we need to remind ourselves of those same things and come to every class not habitually but happily present – fully ready to teach every aspect of yoga, in all of its glorious, surprising, awakening, and amazing forms.
About the Author, Erica Vucich
Erica began practicing yoga when she was 15 years old as a way to help heal her scoliosis and avoid surgery. The deep connection she found with the yoga tradition and the transformations she witnessed in her body, heart and life have made her a yogini for life. Erica earned her 200 hour teaching certification from the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in 2008, her 500 hour Master Immersions training with Mary Bruce and Lynn Matthews in 2012, and has studied with Para Yoga’s Rod Stryker, Michelle Dante, Max Strom, Sangeet Kaur Khalsa and others. Erica has a strong desire to share her knowledge and love of yoga with others as well as continually build her knowledge and love of the practice within herself. Her classes focus on breath, movement, and awareness of the present moment which sets the foundation for her students to rediscover their inner brightness, and peace of heart.