The Gym-Phobic Yogi

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I’ve developed a bad habit of only writing about positive things. That means when things are tough, I don’t really have an outlet for my thoughts. Please bear with me, as I’m about to tell you about some of the harder parts of being a yoga teacher.

Even though teaching yoga truly is my dream job, it’s not always easy, and sometimes I doubt my ability to do it well. I’ve been having some frustration with my classes lately. By all external measures, they’re going well. The students keep coming, they say nice things about me, and I get offered new teaching contracts. All these things would suggest I’m doing something right. But something feels wrong.

I recently began teaching at a gym. During teacher training, I heard a lot of negative talk about how bad it is to teach yoga at a gym. Not just my teachers but their colleagues and my fellow students talked about how gym yoga is stripped of its spiritual and philosophical core. They’d say all the students want is hot vinyasa and hand stands and if you tried to put them in savasana for more than a minute you were doomed. Considering that I’ve been too self-conscious to actually set foot in a gym for most of my life, it’s possible that I’ve embellished on their negativity with my own.

This new contract involves teaching at a corporate gym for an amazing company, and it’s a great opportunity for me to branch out professionally. Plus, it pays more than studio classes do. Being a yoga teacher is not just physical work, but there’s a ton of mental and emotional energy involved, and there are times at studios where you earn less than $5 an hour. No matter how wonderful your neighborhood studio is, it’s really hard to earn much of an income if that’s the only place you teach.

I thought I’d outgrown my fear of gyms, but it seems it’s not entirely gone. I get nervous going in to class, forget my plan, stumble over my words, and skip through the centering too quickly when I see someone fidgeting — because I assume they’re annoyed we’re not sweating yet. I find it very hard to teach authentically because I’m worried about what people must be expecting of me. I’m aware as I write this that the solution here is to stop worrying and just teach. But it seems I’ve forgotten how.

I’m not giving up. I know I will figure this out. It just takes a while to figure out a new group and how to relate to them. Until I get it properly pinned down, I’ll be teaching a lot of gentle vinyasa. Finally, I am reminded that every time I meet a new challenge, the answer comes in the form of my own yoga practice. The more I teach, the more I have to focus on my own practice. I have to keep learning and improving if I want to be of service to anyone else.

And with that, I guess I better go get back on my mat.

 

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Monday Night Nonfiction: Who Showed Up

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Last week, I had a yoga class with only one student. This happens a lot. It’s just part of being a yoga teacher in a small studio, especially when you’re subbing. If only one person shows up, I still hold a class. If no one shows up, I try to stay and do my own practice. This time, I wasn’t feeling so great. I was recovering from the flu, I was groggy from NyQuil, and I’ll admit I would’ve been happy to go back to bed.

The person who showed up was woman in her early 50s who we’ll call Liz. Liz has been a pretty consistent yoga student for some time now, and we’ve practiced together a lot over the summer.

Liz let me know that she’d suffered a dizzy spell in another teacher’s class last week. The episode was a total surprise to her, and she was pretty alarmed by it. The other teacher suggested that it could be caused by dehydration and/or a drop in blood pressure, so Liz was making sure to stay hydrated and had gotten her blood pressure checked. She even had plans to see the eye doctor next to rule out any vision-related causes. I know she has a strong yoga practice and can hang with a pretty intense vinyasa, but this new information made me glad I’d planned a gentle class.

We had a really great practice together. It was slow, meditative, and focused. Rather than moving quickly through a lot of poses, we slowed down and connected with the breath more deeply in each pose. By the end of class, Liz definitely had a greater sense of calm around her. Still, in our closing meditation, her eyebrows were furrowed and her face was tense. Her chest seemed tight, as though her breath wasn’t moving freely. When I closed my eyes to meditate with her, I felt the strangest sense of holding, like a jaw clinched so tight it starts to create dizziness. I know that sounds nutty, but that’s really the sense I got.

When class ended, I said, “Liz, I should’ve asked you this earlier when you told me about your dizzy spell, but … how has life in general been for you lately? Has it been kindof chaotic? Or are things going along normally?”

She immediately began to cry. She told me about a death that took place in her family several months ago and how she simply hadn’t felt the same since. She felt powerless to help her loved ones in addition to some intense grief that she couldn’t really talk to anyone about. It seemed like she mostly needed someone to talk to, but those intense emotions were also creating some major anxiety for her. I told her about a meditation technique I use when dealing with intense emotions in hopes that it would help her.

When Liz left, she seemed a little bit comforted. Maybe being listened to was all she needed. Maybe she’ll try that meditation technique, and it’ll help deal with the emotions. I’m glad she’s checking out possible medical causes for sure! Maybe it’s a little vain of me to think I might have helped someone. All I did was listen and give some potentially useless advice. But I dunno. I felt like I had an opportunity to help someone, which was cool. She left smiling. She gave me a hug. It was a good day.

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