I did not learn to teach from love by coming through the front door. I wasn’t an enlightened soul looking for a yoga practice; I was beat up and a bit beat down when I arrived. I struggled through so many classes just wanting to give up. I knew I was being judged—I knew because I was the one doing it—knowing I couldn’t do what everyone else was doing, mired down in my own fears and frustrations. The struggle to move my body changed not only my body but also my mind.
I went to Teacher Training one year into my practice with all the fear and self-doubt most students arrive with—and brought them home with me again. My early classes as a teacher were not wonderful. I made many mistakes. I shamed students. I walked around the room and touched students. I tried to bend them to my will, to feign being in charge of the room. To hide my lack of understanding and lack of confidence I judged them the way I feared being judged. I taught from a place of fear that I did not really know what I was doing, that I was not good enough, and that the students were going to find out. All these “techniques” were just a way to cover up my fear and discomfort.
I have sat with other teachers, complaining, judging, doing all those things we can fall into doing to make ourselves feel better by pulling others down.
Then one day when I was sitting with a group of teachers, I sat back and really listened: I could hear their frustration and fear coming out as criticism and complaining. I took time to try to understand why we were doing this, and I realized it was the fear speaking.
I wanted to stop being afraid, to stop feeling shame and putting it on my students. I wanted to be truly confident (not just to fake it). I had great mentors and friends, but what I was experiencing came from within—not just as a student or teacher, but as a person, too.
My understanding of teaching from love came from my own struggles as a teacher and a student, from my struggles with students and with my self-confidence. I started to educate myself. I studied the Dialogue in order to understand the words in relationship to students' bodies, to really understand the words and not simply memorize them. I looked at students—really looked at them—to observe how they worked with the words of the Dialogue. I stood still on the podium, uncomfortably, because I had to learn to own that power. Amazingly, it worked.
I continued to learn from my mentors and other teachers. I learned to be willing to ask the questions and let go of the worry that I would look stupid (more judgment from within). I started practicing the skills I wanted to develop, the ones I had been faking, accepting that my efforts might not go well right away. I started practicing good verbal corrections from the podium. I got all this wrong a fair amount of the time—which brought up my self-doubt and shame quite often, but I had resolved to move past all that in my quest to be a better teacher. I started using the Dialogue as my resource to understand and make corrections and IT WORKED! Over time, there was more that did work and less that didn’t. I felt better, more confident, and my class got better. Teaching became easier and more rewarding.
To get to the reward, I had to be willing to make mistakes and struggle. I had to be willing to let students make mistakes and struggle. I had to learn their struggle was no reflection on my teaching or me. I came to understand that just as my struggle was how I learned to be successful, their struggle was where they found their success as well. Just as I had discovered my strengths and weaknesses, letting students struggle taught them to discover their strengths—and who they are deep down.
This is how I found my way to teach from love, by coming through the side door. Having walked the path of fear, shame and struggle, I learned to recognize it in myself and learned to love those parts of me. Now I can recognize it in others and love them too. The path led me to more compassion.
I have learned through my years of approaching teaching this way that I just need to hold space for the students to find their own way. This has made my teaching more joyous. It allows me to go back to that space over and over on the podium, but more importantly to go there on my mat. When I stopped judging my students, I stopped assuming the teacher was judging me when I practiced. I started believing the teacher was just holding space for me and my practice.
The point of all this is that it is okay to make mistakes and to struggle as a teacher or a student. Let go of shame and fear, step forward and let yourself become more confident. The rewards are immense.