In November, I had the incredible opportunity to teach at the Dubai Yoga Festival. It was my first time in the Middle East, and I was in my element. I was so happy to be in warm weather, in a place that almost felt like home (you'd be surprised by how much Dubai is like the USA). As the taxi whisked me from one side of town to the other to teach my first yoga class, I was a bit nervous. I did what I always do in taxis (the ultimate test of my anxiety) - I listened to music and people watched.
The thing about yoga festivals is that they often attract a lot of other yoga teachers. It sounds fantastic - a bunch of yoga teachers coming together to practice, learn and share. But in the moment, as a first time festival teacher, it's easy to get swept up in unrealistic self expectations and the pressure to give a great class.
Every night before falling asleep I read a few pages of whatever books are on my kindle. My current read is by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. In it, she writes, "She explained that many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can't seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are- impostors with limited skills or abilities."
This is exactly how I felt. Despite my experience teaching numerous classes, workshops, and private sessions, despite working with professional athletes and dancers, despite designing custom yoga DVDs for all types of people, and despite receiving great feedback from the power yoga DVD I produced last summer, I arrived at the festival feeling like I wasn't quite good enough.
I had planned my class thoroughly. I knew what I was going to say during the beginning meditation. I knew the intricacies of the yoga sequence, and designed it to fit the flow of the playlist. I was definitely prepared, but I was really nervous.
I walked into the room designated for my class, and panicked because there wasn't a wire to connect the speaker to my music. I plopped my gear down and hurriedly left the room to track down the festival coordinator. When I spotted him, he was being bombarded by other yoga teachers with other logistical problems, and as the clock ticked, I frantically ran from room to room looking for a spare wire.
With a minute left to go, I returned to the room, no wire to be found anywhere. I figured I'd have to forget the music and rely on the soundtrack of our breath to inspire, motivate and move us. Students were chatting excitedly on their mats, oblivious to my anxiety and frustration about the stupid cord.
It was time to begin. They looked at me expectantly.
I took a deep breath. As I exhaled, I told myself that I had nothing to prove, no one to impress, and everything to share. I took another breath, and repeated that to myself, really forcing myself to believe it. The stress melted away as I began to talk the class into a comfortable seated position for the opening meditation.
As they closed their eyes preparing for the meditation, the festival coordinator quietly entered the room and silently hooked up a spare wire.
The music began, and our synchronized breath fueled the movements. It was over before I knew it.
Putting pressure on ourselves is normal. I mean, we all want to succeed in what we do. But giving ourselves permission to let go of expectations we set, to silence our insecurities and self-doubt is the foundation for an open space to share what we know from the heart, because when we stop using our energy for worrying, we can use it on what matters.
After the class, a few people stayed behind to chat. I was asked where I studied, who I studied with, and I received great feedback on my sequencing. One woman, a teacher in nearby Abu Dhabi, told me she loved how a particular part of the sequence felt in her body- the ultimate compliment.