I bumped into a friend today who asked me how my early steps in teaching were going. I told her about the practice class I’d just done with two teachers at my local studio, getting ready for teaching a charity class there later in the week. The mentor teacher had offered me some quite amazing positive feedback at the end. “Oh that’s nice,” my friend commented, “but it’s not as though you need validation.”
Um, actually I do.
I know I’m not supposed to, I know I’m meant to listen to the inner guide, blah blah. And indeed this is how my regular teacher plays it, careful not to offer comment on others, avoiding, I suppose, a creation of dependency. It’s one of the aspects of line management I remember finding very hard in the early days. Who am I to judge? Isn’t it arrogant to assume my opinion is important to anyone else just because I have the word ‘senior’ in my job title? But I find it is, that my team turn to me all the time for encouragement and support. My boss, a reticent Englishman if ever there was one, treads this line tentatively too. But somehow we’ve found our way together where we can explore how something is going; I can reveal my doubts and he can comment without judging or patronising. But it’s taken us nearly a decade to get here, I realise! And he’s not trying to play by yoga rules.
Back in the yoga studio, the mentor teacher adopted best feedback practice by asking me how I thought the session had gone before she offered comment. I wittered on about how strange an hour of monologue feels, wondering whether I sounded like an automaton, or — looking at it the opposite way — whether I should have followed my teacher’s advice in learning a script by heart, rather than just talking through each pose as best I could, slightly extemporaneously. So I bumbled slightly as I stretched for the right verb now and then. Where did the words go in the moment? Should I have been more eloquent and fluent? And at what point does talking through a sequence become real teaching, cultivating a connection with the students and sensing their needs? Did my cues reflect good anatomical understanding of the postures and did I allow sufficient space for individual exploration, balanced with precise enough instruction? Was the theme of my class too banal and simplistic?
Yes, I wittered on quite a bit. Nervous energy. I felt every bit the neophyte. I am more sure of what I offer in my own home, my own informal teaching space. But here, in this studio… this is my own teacher’s stage, a big space to fill, an amazing act to follow. Is my offering enough?
She reassured me that my run-through had been fine. Actually, slightly reluctantly, she said it had been excellent. No, I’m not now jumping around in an ego-boosted frenzy at this, I was just genuinely curious that she evaluated me so highly, albeit within the context being a newly qualified teacher. I remind myself over and over at the moment that teaching is a practice, just as my yoga is a practice. But I find myself desperately wanting to be an amazing teacher. Maybe in time I might be.
The mentor actually told me she thought I had something special, and that there was something about me that made her want to follow me and practise as well as possible under my guidance. I’m recording this not out of pride or any self-aggrandisement (I’m too astonished to be proud) but simply to remember. I might never be told this again! It’s an intimate remark one doesn’t usually find the space to make.
The conversation in fact reminded me of the serious talking-to that Hubby gave me at the weekend. Even in the intimacy of marriage, it was hard to reveal to him (and to acknowledge to myself) how unsteady I feel in my own practice, absurdly wondering if I deserve yoga practice as my way of being and yet feeling (almost) how perfectly natural it is to share that practice with others. Carefully avoiding eye-contact I told him in a whisper that I really wanted this to be ‘my thing’, how I would love to teach and offer what I could to others, developing a teaching practice alongside my yoga practice.
And Hubby shook his head at me sadly.
He knows it is already my thing.
And me? What do I know? What does my inner wisdom tell me? Some days are filled with optimism that it could all be this easy and joyful and meaningful… and then irritating doubts creep in. Teaching yoga seems to be as much a practice as doing yoga — the same questioning and doubts, but they are relieved in the same way, by just getting on and doing it! I hope one day I will have just done it enough times that the questions settle a little in my mind. Until then, in both practices, there’s always a quiet exploration of faith. Abhyāsa and vairāgya.