As a veteran yoga teacher, (I’m in my 21st year teaching professionally) as well as a teacher trainer, and mentor to new teachers, I am fascinated with the journey we are on —and with what it is that makes some of us thrive while others struggle.
But in line with my title, perhaps it is helpful to start with looking at the word “success.”
In terms of teaching yoga, what does success mean to you?
For some, simply having one or two regular public class times, with a small but loyal group of students is a dream come true —especially if yoga is not a primary source of income.
For others the path of growing a business that includes large public classes, packed workshops, sold-out retreats and even training other teachers is the definition of success.
A third teacher might do the math and set the goal of teaching 10 to 20 private sessions a week in order to maximize income in the short term.
But regardless of which definition of success you resonate with, I want to suggest to you that one quality is going to be an indispensable ally: authenticity.
This may seem as simple as the often heard advice to “just be yourself,” but if we peel back the layers, authenticity is a pretty deep concept —especially for a yoga teacher.
While it is true that we can find success by pretending to be something we’re not; by cloaking ourselves in the authority of a tradition, or playing up some aspect of our appearance or personality because of how people respond to it, or by creating a mask that portrays authority, mystique or acrobatic superiority, in the end one may wonder if this kind of “success” is sustainable or integrated. Is this really a recipe for happiness in ourselves or our students?
When we take authenticity as a primary value in how we teach, the implications are powerful. The authentic teacher is taking a greater risk personally, emotionally, but the rewards are greater too. The authentic teacher digs deep into why they love yoga, what the practice has meant for them personally, what specific gifts they can integrate into how they teach, and reaches out to touch the students who are going to benefit the most from this message, this style of communicating, this uniquely tailored experience.
Instead of trying to please everyone, the authentic teacher accepts that if they really bring forth their own voice, some students will not like it, and they won’t come back. Students expecting a generic experience, created by a corporate yoga culture that seeks to render teachers interchangeable, will either dislike being taken on an authentic journey, or be pleasantly surprised and come back for more. Bottom line, those who love what you do, and how you do it, those who resonate with the authentic self you share in your work will be fiercely loyal —because you touch them somewhere real and communicate something they can feel in their bones.
More than that, your authenticity gives them subconscious permission to be themselves too —and in a practice space dedicated to inner work there may be no greater gift. Your dropping of the mask models self-acceptance, and deep down (whether they know it yet or not) every single student in a yoga class is yearning for that experience within themselves. Authenticity is a doorway into trust, and trust is a key ingredient in creating sacred spaces that foster real transformation, healing growth and community.
When I started teaching I was the only male teacher at my studio. I had very long hair and wore hand-me-down leotards and leggings from my female neighbor. Now it seems a bit comical, but I was poor. I was also the only teacher at that studio who played music. I carried in my own little boom box and bag of yoga mix-tapes! No-one else read poetry in their classes, or talked about psychology like I did, and contrary to the dominant style of bright lights and checking the mirrored walls to perfect the postures, I made the lights dim in my evening classes and invited people to turn inward. I also encouraged people to sigh out their breath at certain moments in the class as part of releasing tension and stress and breaking the taboo against self-expression.
A lot of people thought I was very, very weird. To them, this wasn’t “real” yoga.
As I said, this is my 21st year teaching, and here’s the amazing thing: even though some of my class times have changed, even though I changed studios, I still have a core group of students coming regularly who know me from those early days. And yes, I have those packed workshops, sold-out retreats, busy private practice, and train teachers. When you keep it real and share what you love, the haters are gonna hate, but those who love it will feel like they’ve come home and form meaningful ties with you and your work for many years to come.
For me that is the definition of success in this beautiful vocation we are so fortunate to share.
Interested in more FREE mentoring? Please visit my Yoga Teacher Grad School website here. I want to support your success!
- Your #1 Key To Successfuly Teaching Yoga: Authenticity - May 21, 2015
- Everyday Enlightenment Workshop with Julian Walker - January 13, 2014