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Head of the Class: How to Teach Confidently When Your Practice is Lacking

Pro or no, you know the feeling of falling off the ol’ mat for an extended period. Whether it’s from illness, a packed schedule or a brand new Netflix show that everyone’s trying to spoil for you (“Stranger Things,” anyone?), checking out of your regular practice for a while means it’s hell to get back into, and being able to teach confidently is a whole other ball of wax.

Letting the Judginess Go

The greatest thing about going back is that yoga teaches non-judgment, so when you’re ready to start saluting the sun again, it’s no biggie. Drop the judgy Judy at the back of your mind and party on. Sure your hamstrings are tight and your crow’s a little wobbly, but you’ll be back to yourself in a week or two.

When you’re an instructor, though, dropping that judgment isn’t quite so simple. Yes, we should leave the judgment for the less-evolved, but when you’re in front of a brand new class and you haven’t done your practice for a couple weeks, there are a lot of things racing around in your brain.

What if I totally bomb trying to demonstrate an arm balance? Can they tell I haven’t practiced in a while? Has my posture gone to shit while I’ve been out? I’m not qualified to teach if I can’t hold together my own practice.

That last one is louder than all the rest. It’s the voice that won’t shut up even after the class has started and you’ve established the easy rapport that has nullified all the other questions. This statement degrades all your hard work. It makes you question your well-earned knowledge until you’re convinced you have savasana and downward dog backwards.

You can beat yourself up. You can call yourself lazy and inept and wallow in the shame. Or you can even quit teaching and sulk. But you signed up for teacher training because you wanted to help others, and none of those things are helping you help others. So get over it.

You’re Just a Human!

You’re human. You’re a modern human who doesn’t have the option to isolate yourself in a mountain cave and practice asana and meditation 24/7. And would you want to anyway? You knew full well that you’d always have other obligations—jobs, family, pets, periods, parties, allergies, Netflix—and you chose to become a yoga teacher anyway.

First, you have to follow what you preach and drop that judgment. If it doesn’t build you up, if it doesn’t get you somewhere or help you find peace, judgment doesn’t serve you or your students. Take some time and think about all the knowledge you have, all the practice you’ve enjoyed and all the people you’ve served. Those things didn’t just disappear because you took some time off your mat. Maybe the time-out didn’t give you additional experience, but it certainly didn’t strip any away.

Deep Breath: It Will All Be OK

And guess what? Your students can’t tell. They still think you’re a badass professional because you are still a badass professional. They’re putting their practice in your hands because they trust you with it. Honor their confidence by matching it with your own.

Take these feelings of inadequacy as a tough-love lesson learned. Things will happen in life that draw you away from a regular practice, and that’s OK. Our priorities are always changing. Sometimes Netflix really is what we need, and that’s OK if we’re making a conscious choice (seriously, watch “Stranger Things”).

When you become an instructor, there’s this underlying feeling that you have to be “above” the things you weren’t able to handle as a totally lame and lowly student. News flash: That certificate doesn’t fast-track you to transcendence. We are always students, even if we can call ourselves teachers, too. Learn from experiences, leave the judgment for over-critical mothers-in-law, and luxuriate in reviving your practice.

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    January 16, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Katie, I love this post. The Feelz girl…

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