The last year has been full of doubt and uncertainty in my own craft. I’ve been teaching yoga and barre full-time for nine years and I’ve felt far less sure and confident of myself today than I did in the beginning.
In a world where our worth as a yoga/fitness teacher seems dependent on class numbers, high amounts of followers and likes and publicly-available Classpass and Google reviews, I have felt like I can’t compete. I’m not a competitive person and I never have been. I feel the pressure to be something extraordinary, to become a celebrity, to get people’s attention and have them care about me and praise me. I see the efforts that others in my community put into their social media and a sense of failure immediately fills my being. Everyone *seems* to have a professional photographer with them at all times, has unsurmountable inspiration and motivation while sporting the newest gear, the most perfect hair and a perfectly toned body to match.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “are you just jealous?”
Hell yes I’ve experienced jealousy! And doubt. And inadequacy. And envy. I also want to acknowledge the incredible amount of work that my community members put into building their brand. I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out how I might do the same, where I can take a visually-appealing yoga picture, how I can get people look at me and pay attention to me so that I might have bigger classes and amazing reviews and more followers because…society says that matters…
I finally realized, after reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, that my standards are way too high. They’re unrealistic and feel disingenuous. The goal of yoga and meditation is about releasing our attachment to the ego, about letting go of our identity, our need to be seen and heard and admired and noticed. THAT makes sense to me. That feels like an honest and attainable goal. No doubt it requires an immense amount of work and focus (like becoming a yoga/fitness celebrity), but *this* goal actually makes my heart light up with excitement. My merits for success have been unattainable and I needed to change my perspective to something that does feel authentic and something that I have control over right now:
I can be present for my students. I can drop the overly-cheery welcomes when they walk through the doors and be calm, and hold eye contact and listen with my whole body when catching up on what’s been going on. I don’t have to put on a show during class and embellish my personality, I can give thoughtful and individualized cues and smile with gratitude for their presence in my life. I can give them adjustments with love and care and also give them space to have their own experience instead of trying to coddle them to ensure that they’re having a good time (and maybe give me a good review).
Being authentic and present in my classes would be a massive success, in fact I feel silly now thinking that I ever needed to be more. And sure, there are teachers who can be authentic and present and also be a yoga/fitness celebrity and that’s great for them. But if I can just show up and create a safe and comfortable space for people to have a present moment experience, then I would feel as though I’ve contributed positively to my community.
I wish I had realized this all sooner. In this day and age, in this society, it’s not as easy as it seems to just “be yourself”. Simple, yes. Easy, no. It’s obvious that part of our job as yoga/fitness teachers is to be likeable, if you’re not, students don’t come. Being myself unfortunately does not mean that I will build my class numbers, it won’t get me more Instagram followers (in fact, my numbers seem to drop the most when I think I’m posting something “epic”) and it might not get me better ratings online. BUT…but…it’s the only thing that I know I can actually live up to.
Right now, just simply being myself is the only standard of success that I can honestly strive towards. I don’t have a grandiose personality, I probably don’t teach the most amazingly creative flows, I don’t have any pretty pictures to post on social media and I won’t tell you that everything is “love and light”. I can give it to you straight, I want to be able to talk about the imperfections of my humanity without being ashamed. I can only live up to being ordinary. I don’t work out every day. I sleep a lot. I overindulge. I fall off the wagon. I get back on the wagon and feel like I have things figured out and then fall off again. I set goals. I fail. Sometimes I am myself and people respond well. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I clean my house. Lots of times I don’t. I experience insecurity about my personality, my body, my hair. my food, my mind, my choices. Sometimes I experience so much anxiety about teaching, about showing up perfectly and making people like me that I can’t even show up for my class. I’ve made myself sick trying to live up to these unrealistic standards.
So here I am, an ordinary woman, with ordinary goals. And I happen to teach yoga. I won’t try to drop esoteric spiritual knowledge on you, I’m not special and I don’t know things that you don’t know. I’m just an average person. All I can commit to is being present with my classes. I can’t think of anything more rewarding or satisfying.