|Spring 2011: The Joy of Teaching|
I am not naturally an extrovert. In fact, I really dislike being in large crowds, I feel nervous when people are watching me, and I am uncomfortable speaking to people I do not know well. Strange then that I have chosen to pursue a profession which consists of speaking in front of a large group of people (most of whom I do not know) while instructing them to watch my every movement!
For me, teaching yoga was not necessarily something that I wanted to do; it was something that I felt I needed to do. Coming to my first yoga class, an incessant worrier with a restless nature, the practice gave me a sanctuary to release my self-doubts and my inner critic. Yoga led me to discover a still place that resides at the core of my being, a place that I never saw much of before yoga. Through my practice, I learned that this inner sanctuary is available to me all the time. No matter where I am and no matter who is there with me, I can be at home and I can be at peace if I just connect to my center. I liken my experience of yoga to the feeling of being underwater: temporarily weightless, suspended in time, quiet. Yoga frees me from my inner dialogue.
I am not suggesting that practicing yoga is some magical panacea that makes all of life’s challenges disappear, but I have noticed that when I am calm at my center, no situation facing me feels so grave. When I see through the eyes of my spirit, my problems do not seem so threatening. Discovering this has changed everything about my experience of life and filled me with a sense of urgency to share this new-found awareness with others who could benefit from it. My passion for the practice drives my willingness to go beyond what is comfortable for me in order to fulfill my role as a teacher. It is humbling that even after almost 10 years of teaching, I still get up in front of the class some days and feel completely terrified, as though it is my first day all over again. Then I close my eyes, I deepen my breath, I draw myself into my center, and I call upon the class to do the same. We can all navigate through the waves of tension together as we each individually re-connect to our own inner-sanctuary, a place without time or judgments or boundaries. We can feel supported by each other, even if we are all complete strangers, knowing that at our core we all hold the same hopes and fears.
To some people, I may be just a fitness instructor but that is not the way that I view my job at all. I see my job as an opportunity to remind a fellow human being of how to connect to his or her own inner refuge. Some people come to my yoga class to sweat, to move pent-up tightness out of the body. Others come feeling disconnected or lost, looking for answers. Some people come to yoga at a point of complete exhaustion in their lives, hoping to release and forget. Through a series of meditative, breath-coordinated movements, I lull the class into a feeling of safety where they can allow themselves to be temporarily vulnerable. In these pivotal moments, I have an opportunity to say something that can shift someone’s perspective away from the mundane stresses of daily life and back to what really matters. As the awareness shifts, a real possibility for healing opens up. I have no delusions of grandeur nor do I believe in any way that I am the voice of reason that heals people. My students heal themselves by learning how to return to the core of their beings and allow transformation to take place. I feel honored, privileged even, to be there at the birth of their re-awakening. For that reason I take my job very seriously.
I don’t know if teaching yoga is something that I am naturally inclined to do or even something that I am very good at for that matter. When I started teaching my first weekly yoga class, I did not expect to make a living being a full-time yoga instructor. I was too realistic. Teaching yoga was just something that I planned to do on the side, part-time. More and more my life kept steering me towards teaching, opening doors that I didn’t even know existed, until finally it seemed that the effort to resist teaching would be greater than overcoming the fear to dive in. What I lacked in natural talent, I made up for in drive and passion. I am simply willing to work harder. I am willing to put more time and more energy into every class that I teach, every training that I run, and every retreat that I organize because I believe it is meaningful. It is not just some fitness program to me. It is an opportunity to completely change the way someone views the world and their place in it. That is a big responsibility.
Teaching yoga also holds me accountable. When I conduct myself in a manner contrary to the ideals that I espouse in my teachings, I feel very guilty about it. I have come to see this aspect of my job as a tremendous blessing. If I want to be able to show up to my job and inspire people and say meaningful things to them, I need to be at peace with myself. My job calls upon me to look in the mirror every day and ask myself if I am living in accordance with my values. Am I practicing what I preach? Feeling accountable scared the hell out of me when I was 19 years old and a new teacher, but now I can’t think of anything more important in life than having values and living by them. Having a job, then, that makes me accountable for my lifestyle and my choices is indeed a great blessing.
Brynn Rybacek, E-RYT