Teaching Yoga: The Yoga Straight Face
by Meaghan Williams
I am a graduate of the 200-hour yoga teacher training program at Pavones Yoga Center. I went into the program wanting to learn how to sequence my own yoga class, but felt like the idea of me actually teaching a yoga class would be far off. I was amazed by the end of the program when I thought, “I could actually do this!”
Indira had told us, “do it sooner rather than later,” and I had that feeling that if I didn’t try and start teaching, I would surely fall into a comfort zone, and likely find an excuse to avoid it. I had been loving my personal practice, and really did feel the ‘want’ to teach. It was the beginning of summer, a time when I thought everyone would want to come and join me for a class.
I called a few studios in my area, and also was adamant to run my own outdoor class by donation. Wonderfully, everything fell into place. I had two studios lined up, and had advertised for my outdoor classes. Now, I just had to sit with my butterflies. I was nervous! My husband was critical about the style I taught in, he felt it wasn’t aerobic enough; this made me worry about whether others would feel the same. My mom has yoga ADD, so a session with her never felt very yogic. Her practice with me, again, made me feel like I didn’t have the “yoga voice,” or the natural ability to guide the instructions smoothly. Anyhow, I was committed, and held with the confidence that I’d done my successful class in training, and I was practicing almost every day. It would all work out. I just had to do that first class, and I’d be over the hurdle.
Well, you can imagine how I felt my first day when I went in, set up, wafted some Palo Santo around, as I focused on my breathing…to calm my nerves. I waited, and listened to every car rumble past…I watched the clock. No one. This was how my first three classes went. I debated whether it was a sign from the gods that I wasn’t meant to do this. Yet, every time no one showed, I also let go of some fear, and felt more of the desire to just have anyone show!
Finally, they did! Three. Three people. I was overjoyed! It was also during this class that I realized that just doing that first class was not the only hurdle. Everyone came in, we joked a bit. Talked about holidays. We were all smiles. Then we began our practice. I thought that was it, the hurdle was getting through that opening meditation and into the first pose. Right?!
I started off with everyone in child’s pose. I kid you not, one of my students was crying. I know this is sometimes common in Yin practice, but we had just started. I wasn’t bothered by it, but it made my ‘monkey mind’ chatter. I didn’t judge her, but I judged myself. Then, in another pose, I glanced about at my students and everyone who had been giggling and laughing as we came in, now had this look on their face. It wasn’t a giggle. It could have been a frown, maybe even a grimace. It was a very straight face. Really, a perfect poker face, because I could NOT read it. So again, my mind cycled, and I thought, “shit, I lost them!”
The class ended, and everyone had something to say. None of it negative. We shared a few laughs as they headed out the door. I actually had a really positive talk with the cryer. I felt pretty good about the class. I hadn’t lost them.
I had a teacher, at this same time, who would always ask us to add a smile to our face, to loosen the tension in our facial muscles. I liked the idea of it, but always felt silly holding a smile on my face for very long. However!!!! Could she too have been gazing into a class of ‘straight faced’ yogis?? Upon reflection, those moments when my monkey mind starts to chatter, as I gaze at my students, worried I’ve completely lost them…I think adding just a little smile would be the perfect addition, and for me, offers the opportunity to get my mind back into the meditative teaching mind.
I also realized, getting past the first class wasn’t my big hurdle. I was raised in a very Eckhart Tolle ‘ego’ environment, and my brain was wired to judge; so learning to let go of my judgment and take my risk teaching, that’s my hurdle. This was an opportunity to catch myself in my cycle of judging. I had to let it go, and get back into the practice! With experience, I think we can only embrace everything we are confronted with. We stumble upon everything for a reason, that reason, often far beyond our knowing. But I do know that experience is part of our growth. Why potentially miss out on it! So, let’s be joyful for the adventures, and take a chance on our fears. Even if I was making mistakes, I’m still opening up my opportunity for growth, and why miss out on the great places that could take me?
It means so much to share this experience of the ‘yoga straight face’ with you; I hope there is some shared experience out of this story. In all of my experiences in a studio, my memories of my classmates from training always brings so much strength to my actions going forward!
With all the PYC graduates in mind and heart,
AUTHOR BIO: By trade, I’m an Elementary teacher, although I have just begun my yoga teaching over the summer, and am finding my ways to continue! Learning more about myself, and others, I’m drawn to yoga and the way of healthy living. I recognize how precious and volatile our bodies, and our world are and feel a deep pull towards a way of living that aids the cleanse of both body and earth. My search now is towards a path where I can share the experience, and learning, with others.