I view my journey as a yoga teacher, yoga student, and just overall person, I suppose, as a lifelong journey of self-improvement. I know you guys are of the same kind of mindset, so I figured we'd tackle a new theme each month that would help guide us on our way to overall self improvement in all aspects of our lives. This month on the YBC App and on the blog, we're going to discuss fear.
When I emerged fresh out of yoga teacher training, I was scared to teach. Like, very scared. I spent hours sequencing classes, writing out what I'd say, creating notecards in case I lost my place. After a few months of teaching free classes on the beach, I got a job teaching two weekly classes. In Germany, to Germans, many of whom did not speak English. Looking back, I don't know how I didn't have a nervous breakdown prior to each class. Aside from the fact that I was a newbie teacher (#nervecentral), I am not even close to being proficient in German. I was fearful, and rightly so, I suppose.
What was I scared of? Well, let me count the the ways:
- Could I deliver a decent class?
- Would the students like the class?
- Would they like me?
- What would they say to their friends?
- What if I completely froze and forgot my sequencing?
At the end of the day, I wanted them to be happy, and I wanted to deliver a kick-ass class. But I also knew that striving to be the best teacher ever, full stop, was impossible. First, because that's an inherently subjective concept. And secondly, because no matter what your area of expertise is, there is always, always, always going to be someone who knows more, does more, teaches more, reads more, trains more, etc. But that doesn't mean that we can't all strive to be the best we can be.
Related: How to be a more confident yoga teacher.
In some instances, I think fear is a good thing. Fear when you're a new yoga teacher, is probably a good thing. It means you want to do well. It means you care about your product (your class). It means that you're of a growth mindset, because you want to be the best teacher you can be, and you're constantly looking to improve the quality of your teaching and your classes.
So fear is not the problem. Rather, it's what we do with that fear as teachers. We cannot let fear hold us back from teaching. We cannot let it dominate us to the point where we're paralyzed by fear. We cannot avoid doing the things we ultimately want to do (teach yoga) simply because we are fearful.
Instead, we need to use fear to the best of our abilities. Use it to get out of your comfort zone. Use it to learn more, and use it to grow as a teacher.
Over the years, I've developed a few strategies that have helped me whenever I am feeling fearful or nervous (a cousin of fear). Here they are, in case you need a little help on your yoga teaching journey:
- Identify what, exactly, you're afraid of.
Is it public speaking? Is it talking through a sequence rather than demonstrating a sequence? Is it that you doubt your abilities as a teacher? What exactly are you afraid of? Make a list of each fear.
2. Develop a plan of attack.
Once I had a list of things I was afraid of, I began developing strategies to help. So, here's one fear. When all eyes are on me and I'm not actually doing anything other than talking (ie, I'm not demonstrating a movement), I sometimes turn bright red. I don't know why, and it drives me bananas, but I hate it more than I hate mushrooms, and I really freakin' hate mushrooms! I noticed that my tomato-turning-face would happen at the very beginning of class, when I was doing a quick intro and everyone was seated and staring at me waiting to get the show on the road. To cope, I put them in child's pose. BOOM. Now they can't see me, I never turn red because they're not even looking at me, and the show is on the road so we can get going with the class plan.
3. Identify your weaknesses
Sometimes we are fearful about our weaknesses. In the backs of our minds, we know where we struggle, and we feel insecure and vulnerable about our struggles. I am insecure in how well I offer assists. I'm nervous that I will push too hard and injure someone. For that reason, I stick with assists I am comfortable with. I hate this about my teaching. I wish I'd be a little more...daring. Maybe that's the wrong word. Confident. I wish I would be more confident. But the problem is that I truly don't want to injure anyone. So, blah. I stay on the same old boring path of downward dog and child's pose assists. Sometimes a good trikonasana assist, if I'm feelin' crazy. No, but in all seriousness, I know this is a weakness of mine. I have identified it, and now it's time to work on it.
4. Continue to grow
Once you figure out what your weaknesses are, create strategies for improvement. I signed up to take a master class for assists. It turned out to be a huge fail, though, but the intention was there! Much like the fear of teaching, once you develop strategies to improve your weaknesses, they no longer have as much power over you, because as you begin to implement those strategies, the weaknesses dissolve.
5. Feedback: Hearing vs Listening
This is a tough one, because poor feedback is an actual thing, and is not actually useful, even though you probably have to hear it anyway. But hearing and listening are two different things. Students will tell you all sorts of stuff. I recently had someone take time out of their day to let me know my book Namaslay sucks, they can't believe I got a book deal, and I am a shit writer (thanks for that!). You have to hear it, but you don't have listen to it. You'll know in your gut when it's constructive criticism and when their feedback is more a reflection of their own misery. When it's constructive criticism, I'd recommend listening to it. For example, I had students let us know that they found the yoga classes during retreats too short (sometimes they were an hour, sometimes an hour and fifteen), and also that people wish they could have one to one private lessons. So we added a few two hour workshops and the option to add private lessons. At the end of the day, feedback is important for our growth as teachers, and we always want to be evolving and expanding in our teachings so that we stay inspired, keep classes interesting, and continue to help others.
Now that I'm a seasoned yoga teacher, you'd think I wouldn't be scared to teach anymore, right? Wrong. Here's a confession: I am nervous at the beginning of every. single. workshop. and retreat. I. do. Every single one.
I don't think it's a bad thing. My fear stems from not wanting to let anyone down. I've always worked very hard for my money and I know how tough it is to plunk down a good amount of money for a yoga workshop or yoga retreat. So I want to deliver a product that they'll feel was worth it. I want them to walk away feeling like they learned something, or that they really got out of their comfort zone, or that the class nourished them and helped them reconnect with themselves. Ultimately, I just want my class to have a positive impact on them. So yeah, my heart races, and I feel sort of sick and I generally fumble over the first few sentences before I catch my pacing.
I think the absence of fear would mean that I got a bit comfortable. And while comfortable feels nice, it's hard to reach people and connect from that space. You have to open yourself up. Be a bit vulnerable. Give it absolutely everything you've got. If you're teaching from a place of comfort, I think you need to be careful because that's when the classes become a bit stale and uninspired. So if you've been teaching for ages, and still get butterflies, that's a good thing! Just be sure they don't dominate your teaching. And if you don't feel anything at all, then maybe it's a good time to do some self-care, tend to what you need, and revisit teaching once your love for it has been reignited.
Related: More Yoga Teacher Talk installments.
I'd love to hear your strategies for dealing with fear as a yoga teacher down in the comments section below. And if you're a yoga student, do you ever notice a teacher's fear? Do you yourself experience fear in the yoga studio?