They say bend so you don’t break but how flexible should we be as yoga teachers when it comes to our teaching style? Whether you’re new to teaching or a long time sharer of the practice, you are evolving. Forever finding your feet, learning and changing and growing. And that is just how you should be. But with all of that comes the likelihood that at some point you will feel a little conflicted in what you want to share. Partly because you learned something new, or unlearned something that you now question, and partly because these evolutions might not sit in line with what a studio might direct you to teach.
And so there sits the issue at hand for this post: how much should we let our teaching be dictated by a studio as opposed to sticking rigidly, or in flow, with our own style?
A tricky question to say the least. The biggest thing here for most of us is that ultimately we need to work and if we are relying on a studio for classes and income then we have a sense of dependency on them and, as such, are likely to soften the edges of our ideals in order to keep them happy. If you have read some of my other posts in this mentoring series, you’ll know that I’m a firm believer that if you have the opportunity to have a second source of income that doesn’t come from teaching classes, in most cases I believe that it helps HUGELY to take pressures like this off your teaching, but that is a topic for another time. So with the financial side of this parked to one side, what we are really talking about here is authenticity.
Is it possible to be authentic, whilst teaching within a set of rules or guidelines set out by someone else? Maybe... only you can make that call.
When I first started teaching, I was offered classes in a studio straight away (not the normal way it happens, I still count my blessings) but the teacher that stood in front of those students just a few years ago was not my authentic self that I take to classes nowadays. This is because I had ideas in my head about what yoga, and in particular in that studio, should look like and what I thought would make people come back to my class. Of course, I didn’t fully realise it at the time, and of course I thought I was being authentic but in reality I was clouded by a combination of inexperience and expectations that I assumed others would have.
I wanted my classes to be busy, I wanted to be a good teacher and I didn’t quite yet know what that looked like yet.
I remember so clearly the first class that felt truly real to me. I knew people had been enjoying my classes but it felt a little as though I was winging it and just hoping that I served them what they were looking for. I was never consciously inauthentic but I definitely hadn’t figured out what my authenticity looked like. Then one day I let go of thinking about how the class should look and feel, and let myself channel exactly what felt right. That was the first time that the feedback from my students felt honest and real. I had taught them a slower class, much more focused on embodying the practice and connecting more strongly to the subtleties rather than working to build up a sweat. I was always nervous to do that because I didn’t want to disappoint them if they were looking for a workout - but then again, they could have signed up to any of the fitness classes at the studio if that was really what they were looking for. This step into my authentic voice enabled me to make a much deeper connection to my students in just one single class.
And so this is where I sit on the matter:
I teach at studios where there are no guidelines in what your offering is. I also teach at studios where the focus is strong physical asana. But I teach my class.
I have stopped teaching classes in hot studios where the class is just 45mins long because it stopped sitting with me. I took a new class but asked for the description to be vinyasa or yoga in stead of dynamic/power. Not because my classes are slow or lack power in certain senses, but because I wanted to remove the expectation and pressure to teach anything but my authentic offering. The more experienced I become (and wow, I am a junior teacher and will be for many many years...we have so much to learn) the more I am able to grow confident in my offering as a teacher.
I let go of the classes that make me feel pressured to be something that I am not. Teaching is not a performance, it is an offering of authenticity, space holding and humility. How can I step into that space with all of myself if I am trying to be something or someone that I am not? What example does that set. My vulnerability, growth and learning is an invitation to my students to explore that within themselves. And I trust that as a facilitator of this beautiful practice, if I honour my authenticity in every area of my life, it will support me endlessly.
I am not telling you to quit your classes at studios that want you to follow their guidelines or ditch labels associated with your classes or what not. I am just inviting you to remember what yoga is. If yoga is union, completeness, a whole, then as a teacher,a facilitator, a space holder, a sharer of this beautiful journey, then maybe our greatest responsibility is to do so with fierce authenticity. And if anyone asks you to live in any other way then you have the power within you to choose your response. But always remember that you are in choice.