When I grow up I want to be a tree: On teaching yoga

A few weeks ago I taught my first ‘public’ yoga class since finishing Yoga Teacher Training in January. Away from my sun-splashed home studio, without the comfort or proximity of fellow Pavones yogis, I was nervous anew. Here I was, ‘on stage’ at a 5:30 rush-hour yoga session, in front of a wall of mirrors. No accolades from family and friends to support me, no familiar faces or bodies I’ve become so comfortable guiding through flows. Ohmygod. Would these people like what I had to share? Would my class be radically different from the style of the teacher they were used to, the one I was substituting for? What if my “gentle yoga” wasn’t gentle enough for them? What if it was so gentle it put them to sleep?

An hour of poses breezed by as my mind raced; my only solace the familiar reminders (for me or my students?) to notice the breath. I ended the class with the requisite ‘namaste’ and a deep bow, truly honoring each student’s openness to this new teaching style, these new poses, a brand new teacher and a first class. I quickly followed up our final movements together with a call for any feedback. The students slowly filtered out with a few ‘thank you’s and a “will you be here again next week?” that was ambiguous enough neither to sound like hope nor reprimand.

So there it was. My first class. Out there in the universe. Helping or annoying a handful of fellow humans. I had no clue. The students rolled up mats and filed out and I began the following ‘fitness yoga’ class. Inside that hour of sky-stretching warriors and floor-reaching bends, my nerves began to imperceptibly shift and subside as we moved. I began to feel happy and energized sharing this practice with others.

Like any creature does, I’ve had butterflies in my stomach innumerable times. Shaking hands before speeches. Furious scribbles before deadlines. Foreign tongues shouting unfamiliar obscenities at me. But never had I experienced anxiety subsiding in such an easy, organic way. No residual stomachache or slow arc of alleviation. I was sharing what I loved. Expressing breath through movement and inviting fellow travelers in this world of the YWCA to join me.

I began to let go of the desire to please; learning to let the class flow. Learning to really tune into students, their bodies and their needs for class, not me or my desire to be ‘liked,’ ‘the cool teacher.’ After all, this is about their class, not my approval ratings.

A yoga teacher of mine recently tapped into this great work of navigating our desire to please. It definitely merits some thought, no matter what type of work you’re doing. I’ll paraphrase his thoughts, inspired by Rumi:

A tree does not ask permission to grow, nor demand praise for doing so.

Touch the tree, learn from the tree.

Or, as I like to put it:

Teach yoga like a tree.

Summer bursts forth in neon greens. Flowers are alive in vibrant colors. These plants celebrate their life for all to see, without apology or expectation.

So, let’s get down into the dirt and pull up some vibrant, strong, unassuming yoga, shall we?



2 thoughts on “When I grow up I want to be a tree: On teaching yoga

  1. Michael McConnell says:

    Hi, name is Mike McConnell and I reside in San Diego, California. I read your article and come upon it by searching the term, ‘I want to be a tree when I grow up’. Trees and plants ~ to me seem to be the most in tune living creatures on this earth. The point of not wanting to entertain or make others happy while providing habitat and sustenance is something I’ve been rolling around in my mind a lot, and has also come naturally through extreme meta-cognition. I think if you share your thoughts more on this matter with your yoga students, they would benefit greatly from yours and others teachings.- On this note, I will share with you my own thoughts of trees… ~ They (plants) attempt to imbue the very essence of immortality with some species reaching thousands of years of age down too the quick flowering and self sacrificing. (I.E. cross pollination of genomes with other species). Keep in touch if you fell the want or need.


    1. Pavones Yoga Center says:

      Hi Mike, my name is Indira. I didn’t write this article (it was written by one of our graduates) but I deeply share your sentiments. The more that we (humans) can appreciate the sentience of the other-than-humans with whom we share the earth, the more connected we will be as a living system. Everyone is a part of everything. I get really happy when I encounter other people who have the same passions as I do. Thanks for writing and I hope we’ll meet at Pavones Yoga Center or elsewhere at some point in the future… Peace, Indira

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