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Why Yoga Teachers Need to be a Student ... Somewhere Else

Yoga Studio Owner at Class


I don't blog too often about my thoughts and opinions about studio ownership or being an experienced yoga teacher.


Why?


Well, honestly, because the crowd looks pretty chill, but they are anything but.



There's a lot of sniping and in-group arguing. It scares and intimidates me sometimes.


However, not as much these days.

Maybe it's because I am a mom now, or perhaps it's because I've survived glorious failure, or maybe it is because I've been to the very brink mentally and fought hard to come back to the light, but I genuinely don't care about the naysayers anymore. I also don't take advice from folks who haven't walked a mile in my shoes, and when I give advice, it comes with a *****ton**** of empathy. Life is hard, and leadership is hard. I am sure you are doing your best given your circumstances.



This blog is only for those who want to hear my perspective and might find it thought-provoking and supportive. If that's not you, it's okay if this isn't for you.

When I owned yoga studios, I spent most of my days barefoot in stretchy pants and beads. My hair smelled like incense and sweat. Taking class was - literally - my job. And squeezing in meditation was simple. I could just arrive early or stay a little later to carve out a few minutes to breathe deeply, recite mantras, and sit in silence.


A dream job?


Perhaps.


But also the job that broke my spirit among many other things left broken.


When I decided to continue teaching, but primarily online and much less in person through free yoga classes in San Antonio, I've had to reorganize how I got my practice in. I reevaluated my why too. And, I've done a lot of reflection on what it means to be a leader in spaces where people are moving and meditating with intention - and often an intention tied to self-healing.


That time has also given me space to reflect and a deeper perspective.


Teaching in the studios meant many practices were not simply to engage in the discipline of my own deliberate experience but also the discipline of being a steward of the community and frankly - a boss. I was there to be an ambassador of the practice and also to ensure that classes were being taught by my team with quality, safety, and depth. In the studios when I was participating in a group, I held in a lot. Not everything needed to be expressed or spoken. There was a practice of discernment happening at almost all times. I didn't do it perfectly. But, I did stay in the process.


I've reflected a lot on that choice and now understand that it wasn't avoidance or dissociation. It was deliberate composure.


It's simply not appropriate, or in my opinion ethical, to do your work at the same time you're holding space for others to do theirs. When you're a leader in a space, there are very few times when you're not actually still engaging in that role - even if you don't think you are. Consciously understanding the dynamics of the relationship is a very real thing. At the time, it was the exact right thing to do when I knew that after class I would have no less than 10 separate conversations in the space of 20 minutes. If I had to do it again, I'd probably do it the same way.


Maintaining a conscious framework for myself in the space was not the problem. Holding composure without recognizing I had few (no, none?) spaces to be raw was a problem. If Yoga is an interest in preserving autonomy, it's important to know how your thoughts and actions might be preventing someone from experiencing their own.


My favorite translation, and one that may be more true to the source as it went through rigorous scholastic scrutiny, explains the beginning of Yoga practice as such: "Yoga is the control of the moral character of thought. Then the doer can abide in its essence. Otherwise, there is an identification with the character of thought."


If we aren't examining the character of our mind, it's easy to become fused with the character of our mind. Quite frankly, much modern counseling theory concurs.

Diffusion, or creating space, between the thoughts and stories and patterns in our head is easy when the thought is new or blatantly untrue like, "My eyes are brown." Well, I know that's not the case, I can see in the mirror that they are blue.


But the repeated stories, especially that are derived from a real lived experience, can be harder to create space from and much easier to adopt as our very real reality. Getting really clear about the content of your thoughts and how they influence your experience and actions is work. Sometimes that work on the yoga mat, or in therapy, can evoke pretty strong sensations and emotions.


Leaders absolutely should be engaging in this work. But, I don't think that can always be done with the same students you lead six feet away. Often studio leaders, owners, or seasoned teachers really need a place separate from the spaces where they hold space. A place where they look at their own messy and angry and pissed and joyous and depressed and thrilled and anxious and ecstatic experience, and discern what is thought and what is Self without the roles they occupy taking center stage AND without interrupting anyone else's experience.


In counseling school, we discuss self-disclosure ethics and handling transference. In Yoga School, these topics are less common but perhaps should be. While teaching yoga isn't the same as providing mental health support, the influence we carry and the space we need for ourselves require thoughtful consideration and action.


Solutions I have found for myself?

Find a place to not be the leader.

Go to places where I'm unknown.

Join circles of friends that have - nothing - to do with business or teaching.

Go to a teacher and let them be a teacher and respect the line.

Go to therapy and notice when the leadership suit (or stretchy pants) starts to emerge in counseling and challenge myself to remain emotionally naked for even just a little bit of time.


Maybe some of those solutions will work for you too.


It's incredibly healing and has helped me embrace leadership from a new, fuller, realer perspective.

place. It also has helped me say no when I know that I'm not in a good space to lead.

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