I have taught yoga for over five years and upon reflection I have learned a lot in the process. The lessons I have outlined below are not unique to yoga or to teaching yoga. These are lessons that can apply to all aspects of our life. I hope sharing these lessons will allow others to learn not only about how to choose an exercise program but also how to live a happier life. Most importantly I share these lessons with my loyal students. My gratitude to them is profound and these lessons I have learned are a tribute to my students and their awesomeness.
1. Positive Energy in a room is contagious
I recently was at a one-hour workshop led by an energy healer. She was amazing. She was like a magician– except her magic was real, not illusion. She demonstrated how people become physically stronger or weaker depending on the energy of the people around them. Miraculously, my yoga students give me energy and they give each other energy too.
2. Authenticity matters
For a long time I struggled with the fact that I do not look like a yoga instructor (at least not the ones on Yoga Journal) and when I teach a class, I tend to need the blocks and other props more than many of my students. Lots of poses elude me. But I can still teach. My goal in my class is to help people get out of their heads and into their bodies, to connect with their core self and take that connection out of the yoga room and into the world. You don’t need to be able to do any pose to the max to be able to do that. Being true to myself as a teacher and not pretending, gives my students permission to be their authentic selves as well.
3. Location, Location, Location
I teach out of a Synagogue as well as out of a Wellness center and I am certain this has helped me create a class that is consistent with my values. When you walk into the Wellness center, the scent of lavender greets you at the door. This immediately creates a mindset of self-care rather than competition. When entering the Synagogue you are reminded of community and spirituality. My yoga class is more than an exercise class, it is a mind body experience that reminds us of the universality of the human experience and of the many ways there are to care for ourselves; physically, emotionally and spiritually.
4. Laughter makes everything better
I have laughed during every single one of my classes. My students are hilarious. We laugh at ourselves and at the ridiculous things that happen in our lives. We laugh at the craziness of a pose, we laugh about my inability to ever remember which side we are on. Cracking up in class is definitely one reason I leave class feeling so much healthier and happier.
5. Being imperfect is empowering
Yoga is not about achieving a perfect form in a pose. That is not to say I don’t care about alignment because I do. Alignment can keep you safe and help you experience the pose more effectively. But let’s not confuse alignment with perfection. Too much focus on doing the pose “right” can be distracting. We use a growth mindset in class. How can you move forward? How can you work with your challenges? My students are not obsessed with accomplishing a pose, they just want to move, feel good and connect.
6. Someone needs to go into business offering places to nap
We are all way too tired! My mom, who very much values her daily nap, says she is going to start a business napping for people who don’t have time. If only that were possible! At the end of every yoga class we lie down in shavasana or corpse pose for five minutes. The time is meant to allow the work of the class to absorb into your body and it is an effective way to make the transition from class to the world. The only problem is no one wants to wake up! Insomniacs unite! There is apparently no better way to fall asleep than on the hard floor of a yoga class.
7. The teacher gets as much out of the class as the student
There have been many times over the past five years where I have not been “in the mood” to teach. I am tired, stressed, distracted etc. In order to get to class we all need to jump through many hoops. But I can say with 100% certainty that my students dissolve my negative feelings the minute they walk into the room. Students come ready to share, learn and experience. Not only do my students feel more integrated and settled after a class, I do too.
8. Leave Your Ego at the Door
There is no better way to ruin an exercise streak than getting injured and as we age this seems to happen more frequently. My biggest concern is my students’ safety. A common refrain in my class is to pay attention to how you feel and adjust accordingly. Getting to know your body better is a secret gift of exercise and yoga in particular. My students know their limits and are more than willing to adapt to the pose as necessary. It is not always easy to resist our urge to push through the pain, but paying attention to our body allows us to maintain a fitness program for the long haul.
9. Flexibility is a state of mind
When I became a yoga instructor, one of the first “rules” I had was that there would be no rules. Come late, leave early, have your cell phone near you. Life is crazy, why do we need to put more restraints on ourselves? Of course my class can’t be first priority if you have a sick kid, if you have to attend a meeting or if you have to care for an elderly relative. I was eager to create an environment where life was acknowledged and embraced. And guess what? People do not take advantage. Although I allow students to come late, they often come on time. Even though students can have their phones, they keep them on silent. My students care about the class as a whole and are considerate of others. Students, who might not otherwise come because they were going to be late, come anyway. And I am thrilled to have them. My class is for people with a life. My students are full of energy, responsibilities and passion and for that I say “bring it on”.
10. Dedication is magical
Several of my students come every single week. I struggle with such dedication to an exercise routine and I am so inspired by these students. Their dedication is what fuels me. Knowing they will be there motivates me to do my best, to come prepared, to give it my all. I do not want to disappoint my students who make my class a priority. I have learned that dedication has rewards and prioritizing your self-care is a privilege that pays you back tenfold.
But most importantly I have learned Gratitude. I would not be a yoga teacher if it were not for my loyal students. To my yoga students, I want to give a heartfelt THANK YOU. I hope you know how much I love all of you. And if you are not my student, these 10 points are helpful to anyone looking to incorporate exercise into their life. Take note of what is important to you and go out and find it. There is no one size fits all solution, so take your time and play the field. Find the place that fits your personality and goals. Once you do, the dedication and gratitude will follow.