I’ve taught yoga/dance to kids and adolescents with anxiety since the year I graduated college. I’ve always done well at my job(s), and have been able to make significant progress with my students. However, the older I get the more ironic I find it that people pay ME, the anxious yoga teacher, to help them relax. Somehow it comes naturally to me, somehow. Most days it does, anyways. Some days, it does not. I have a feeling I’m not alone in this cycle, and many of my teaching colleagues can relate. So, this post is for you. This is a place to be real and honest, because being a good teacher is not about likes and pictures on instagram.
“Good evening class, let’s start in child’s pose, a tall seat, laying down. In fact let’s start anywhere as long as we all close our eyes. That way we can’t see that I’m legitimately shaking and short of breath right now.”
Most days, this is not how I feel when I begin to teach a class. However, some days it is, and I can’t predict when it will happen. I’m pretty good at grounding myself under pressure, but every now and then I feel like an imposter. Like every single student in the room can see through my shield and knows that I’m an anxious mess. This makes it particularly difficult to focus on what I’m teaching, and that stresses me out even more. So there I am, spinning in my hamster wheel of worry as I contemplate how I’ll avoid teaching the worst class of my career.
I’ve owned my own studio for 6 years And have taught well over 3,000 classes. So I’ve ruled out the “nervous jitters” as a cause for my impromptu anxiety. In fact, teaching is where I feel the calmest, but I also have very high expectations of myself as a teacher.
Since I was younger, my moods and emotions have routinely gone through highs and lows. Usually, it’s seasonal and I know when it’s about to come on. This past year, I didn’t have too rough a go with the winter blues, so I figured I was on this new path to enlightenment or something. I thought, “wow, look at me, I have cracked the secret code and now it’s smooth sailing from here!” HA! Instead what happened was now I get anxiety out of nowhere. This is new to me because I used to be able to equate my moods to something that was going on in life. Like school, work, relationship stress, money troubles, whatever it may be. Right now I am not experiencing any of that, but yet I’m having days where I’m hit with the heavy chest, shortness of breath, shaking, and absolute fatigue as a result. Sometimes it lasts for an hour, but sometimes it lasts for a week. Part of me wonders if it’s my body processing years of escape and avoidance via alcohol. I still wouldn’t trade an anxious sober day for a calm drinking day. Not in a million years. But I do wonder if it’s all related…
Most recently, I recall a Monday afternoon class. It was a small group, and I knew every student. I‘d been anxious all day, despite my 2 hours of Pilates and my alone time outside. Both of those activities always calm me down and prepare me for the week, but my routine did not work that particular Monday, and this caught me off guard. Here I am, in front of a class that‘s here to have me guide them to relaxation, and my entire body is shaking. What could be better?!
At this point I’ve accepted that my anxious ass needs to stay on my own mat today. Most of the time, I walk around during my classes and am good at verbal cuing and reading the room. Today, I’ll be keeping my wild energy contained. I’ve also accepted that I need to let go of my ego and expectations of what a “good” teacher is supposed to do. Today the best thing I can do for my students is to move and breathe with them. How can I guide them in to relaxation if I’m a mess? Today I need to accept that I’m human, and I need to embrace that.
We started on our backs supported by props. I was mindful not to be too wordy. When I’m anxious I can really ramble on, and I wanted to avoid that for the sake of my students. We went through a slow and easy going warm up. When we made it to standing we explored 1/2 sun salutations, sun salutations with a few variations, warrior poses, balancing poses, some nice delightful yin-esque forward bends and hip openers, and finally, we get the bolsters out and close with a restorative backbend and twist before savasana. At this point I’ve calmed down enough to guide the class through savasana, so I hope this saves face for me.
After class, each student expresses their gratitude and tells me what a lovely practice it was. They note that they especially loved using the bolsters for restorative at the end. I’m still anxious but a heck of a lot less than I was when class started. I feel like bursting into tears. Not because I’m upset, but because I’m so grateful to them for sharing this space where we can all be authentically human.
So teachers, my advice to you is to know that you’re going to have days where you think, “damn, I just taught a kick ass class and I am a bomb teacher!” But you’re also going to have a day here and there where you‘re shocked you even made it through the first pose. This doesn’t make you a good or bad teacher. It makes you human. I highly recommend you welcome and embrace this reality. When I get my anxious spurts, I can get really hard on myself. I tell myself, “why would anyone want to learn how to relax from someone who struggles with anxiety?!” But I guess that’s the point. I’ve had to work extra hard at learning to calm myself down. So I’m well prepared to guide others.
So yoga class, if you can tell how anxious I am right now, thank you for not letting it on. Thank you for being human and allowing me to be as well. Thank you for inspiring me to be better everyday.
Phoenix, the anxious yoga teacher/studio owner
Photo by jmansfieldphoto.com