Travel and Yoga – The Formula for Finding Your Voice
College, they say, is a time of self-exploration. It’s the time in our lives we’re told we’re supposed to “find ourselves” (and this applies even if you didn’t go to college).
But what happens when you wake up one day and realize you’ve been out of college longer than you were in it, and you still struggle with identity?
I can answer that because it’s exactly where I found myself last summer.
Just a month before my 26th birthday, I left my family, friends, boyfriend, job, and all my belongings behind to travel through Africa solo for an indefinite amount of time.
To prepare, I had taken two small solo trips to Africa before, but I had no idea just how daunting it would be to be totally, completely alone.
Let me clarify something here: I’m an introvert. I LOVE being alone. But being alone in a strange country is not at all the same as being alone in your room while your roommate watches Netflix on the couch.
But something wonderful happened on that trip – I realized that I had spent so much time existing only in relation to others that I kind of forgot who I was.
Sure, I was a friend, an employee, a girlfriend, a daughter, a sister, a cousin . . . but who was I without all those relationships?
The beauty of solo travel is that all of the ‘things’ that define us are left behind. We are left with only ourselves to navigate our new environment. When we do this for a long enough period of time it allows for a reset. It allows us to breathe.
After two months in Africa, I got a better handle on my identity. I knew who I was again, but it wasn’t until I came home and started teaching yoga that I really started to discern and own my voice.
See, the thing about yoga is it’s so easy to try to sound like what we think a yoga teacher should sound like.
It’s so easy to adopt the “yoga voice” and start doing and saying things you see and hear from other teachers without really deciding how you feel about them because “that’s yoga.”
But guess what? Phrases like “breathe into your little toe” don’t mean crap to me. (Seriously, how??) In this saturated yoga market, everyone is trying to stand out.
One year into my teaching career, I finally feel like I have developed my voice and this has served me both on and off the mat.
Here are 3 things I’ve learned about teaching yoga that have helped me find and teach with an authentic voice:
1. Nothing is more obvious than inauthenticity
In my first few months of teaching, I would (naturally) get very nervous right before class started. Would my students like the sequences I’d prepared or would they think the class was too easy? Or too hard?
Would they be staring at my pudgy stomach the entire time thinking she’s the teacher?? Or would they not even show up when they saw my name on the roster? With all this fear running through my head, I would inadvertently start doing and saying things that I knew weren’t me.
I would start off playing reggae or (clean) hip hop, but then get nervous that my students would be offended and try to change the music to something “zen” five minutes in, thus throwing off the remainder of my class. And my students noticed.
Those first few months, I had almost no returning students. But the minute I stopped trying to be something I wasn’t, my classes were suddenly filled with the same students, week after week.
2. Trust that those who like you, actually like y.o.u.
Another huge lesson for me was learning that the teacher-student relationship is a little like the parent-child relationship. What I mean is, just like a parent doesn’t stop loving their child when they fail a test, students won’t stop liking you as a teacher just because you screw up your left and right or forget to do a sequence on both sides, or you have a really off day and the class isn’t up to your usual standards.
If they like you, they like YOU – not just that shoulder rub you give at the end of class. And if you know you hate touching feet, stop offering foot compressions thinking you will win your students over! Which brings us to our third point . . .
3. Stop trying to be everyone’s favorite!
As teachers, we’ve all overheard our students say, “I just LOVE ’s class! I mean, all the teachers here are great, but her class is the best!” If you’re the teacher the student is referring to, this is an awesome feeling. But if you’re not, it can be (in the beginning at least) disheartening not to be the subject of the adoration.
This can lead you to trying to teach the way that other teacher does, which goes back to point #1 about being inauthentic. But do you know why that teacher is a favorite? Sure, she may be an expert at anatomy or he may have flawless sequencing, but I’m pretty sure it also has something to do with the fact that that teacher is comfortable with him or herself.
The fact is you don’t need to please everyone to be successful. You only need to be yourself and let your tribe find you. They will love you because you are you.
So, how can you implement these three pieces of advice as a new teacher? Be upfront with your students about what type of teacher you are in the beginning. If you’re a punk rock kind of teacher, tell them! If you like incense and essential oils, tell them. If you forgot the name of a pose, tell them.
If I’m in a Jay Z and Ziggy Marley mood that day, I let my students know upfront and I have never had anyone walk out of my class in a huff because of it (I mean, probably don’t play Bonnie & Clyde in a restorative class, but you get the idea.)
Figure out who you are and own it. Your students and your teaching will thank you for it.