Teaching yoga is a great gig. It can also be complicated. If you asked me 15 years ago what I thought would be the most challenging aspect of this job, I would have pointed to the subject matter of yoga and said, “understanding this body of knowledge well enough to communicate it to others.” Now, I’ll tell you that it’s continuing to know myself well enough to manage the psychological, emotional, and interpersonal dynamics that arise over time. Babies cry, teachers face some attachments. Here are a few of them:
- Attachment to class size:
It’s reasonable to enjoy well-attended classes. Unfortunately, it’s easy to become consumed by the question, “how many people did you have in class?” With compensation often tied to commission, the question “how many people did you have” quickly becomes “how much money did you make.” I’m not averse to either—I’m happy to have plenty of people in my class and thankful to earn a decent living. But this isn’t the reason that most of us became teachers. We became teachers because we love the subject, we love how the practice has helped awaken and guide us, and we want to share it. But, like in so many other environments, we can get seduced by quantity instead of quality and be drawn away from what matters most. My recommendation is to acknowledge that these issues will probably arise for you (especially if you’re financially dependent on the income you earn teaching) and to always practice looking people in the eyes and register who is in the class with you. That is why you’re there.
- Attachment to students’ abilities:
I was receiving an aggressive adjustment a few years after I began practicing and I thought to myself, “what’s really going on here,” “what’s playing out in my teacher’s psyche that makes him think that this is reasonable?” I contemplated whether I was the beneficiary of the posture of the teacher’s ego was the true recipient. There’s nothing wrong with cultivating our students’ abilities—that’s part of our job. But, teachers can become overly driven to get their students to do hard postures. Worse, they can become overly prideful of their students’ ability. Yes, there’s a fine line here, but if you find yourself beaming because someone did scorpion for the first time in your class, don’t hold on to it for too long. Remember, there’s a bigger picture.
- Attachment to adoration:
Being appreciated and acknowledged is essential for happiness. And, to a large extent, everyone deserves recognition for who they are and the role they play in their family or community—or, at very least, for their shared humanity. Yet, the amount of attention and adoration that teachers receive can sometimes create unanticipated internal challenges. Not everyone will agree, but in my personal experience observing myself and many, many other teachers, being told you’re wonderful too many times comes at a price: you start to lose your ability to live without it. Some lose their ability to keep any part of themselves private because everything needs to be witnessed and “liked” in some capacity. In fact, if you’re insecure to begin with, being told how wonderful you are creates greater volatility. You go up with praise, but when a day goes by without being recognized for your brilliance, open heart or whatever, you wonder what you did wrong. Yes, you should savor being acknowledged and appreciated for your skill and the role you play in the wellbeing of your students. Just remember that more attention is not always better, easier, or less complicated.
- Attachment to fixing things:
Students will tell you that your class helped them feel better. They may get specific and say things like “my back was killing me before your class and now it feels great.” It’s a good thing when students feel better after your class—and, it feels good to be told about it. Unfortunately, there are only so many times some teachers can hear this type of feedback before they start to develop an inflated sense of their ability to fix all situations. This can lead to eager, inappropriate advice at times. Even more, it can also lead to what I think of as the yoga teacher’s version of the savior complex: the healer complex. It’s important to step back and recognize the actual mechanism of any healing that is at work in the scenario above. The mechanism of healing is the practice, not the teacher. Teachers can provide insight, guidance, and knowledge that is instrumental to your wellbeing. And, by doing so they’re providing you with care—which is another key to wellness. But, teachers can’t mistake themselves for the medicine even if they’re the one who helped deliver the medicine. Remind yourself that you’re simply facilitating your students’ ability to practice—and the practice is the healer.
Jason Crandell was recently named one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future by Yoga Journal for his skillful, unique approach to vinyasa yoga. Jason’s steady pace, creative sequencing, and attention to detail encourage students to move slowly, deeply, and mindfully into their bodies. Jason credits his primary teacher, Rodney Yee, teachers in the Iyengar Yoga tradition such as Ramanand Patel, and ongoing studies in Eastern and Western philosophy for inspiring to him bring greater alignment and mindfulness to Vinyasa Yoga.
Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal and has written over 13 articles for the magazine and website – many of which have been translated internationally (including Japan, China, Italy and Brazil). His integrative and accessible teachings support students of every background and lineage, helping them to find greater depth, awareness, and well-being in their practice – and in their lives. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.