A Yoga Teacher's Identity Crisis Part III: So What's the Problem?

In Part I, I gave you background on why I need to define what yoga is for me in the first place. I strongly believe every teacher should define what he/she is teaching. If you don’t answer that question, who then are you as a teacher? And if you don’t have an answer, maybe ask more questions! That’s how this all started with me and it’s been a priceless and essential inquiry. In Part II, I defined what a yoga class is TO ME. And here, in Part III, we get to the actual “crisis.” Ready?

I have been struggling to teach yoga in the way that I have chosen to define it for myself. Basically, what I value the most in a yoga class as a student as outlined in Part II—specifically the meditative quality of the practice— is not what I’m focused on offering as a yoga teacher.

Wait, what? The whole reason I did my yoga training was because I was so in love with my practice! It inspired me and calmed me and made me so aware of myself, so much so that I wanted to offer that same experience to others through the same types of yoga classes I was having those experiences in. And it worked for a bit. But then as I’ve really gotten in touch with who I am as a teacher, I’ve discovered that what’s coming out of me is not what I expected. Me as a yoga student? I want flow, I want candles and incense, I want a dharma talk and an Ommm, flowery language, soft music and a fully meditative experience to help my lose myself and get away from my overactive monkey mind. Me as a teacher? Not so much flow, direct/clear/and lots of instruction, maybe some candles and a palo santo stick if I remember, no dharma talk, no music, and lots of room for trial/error and play. Ommm and Namaste are feeling really really forced lately. Coming to this realization was weird.

I decided that I can either:

1. Re-define Yoga as it stands for me personally.
As I’ve been witnessing these changes, I’ve tried to force myself to “re-define” yoga with this whole process. Can yoga ALSO be what I’m teaching? The choppy, prop heavy, biomechanical, curiosity-driven movement classes? There is an argument here either way. I can argue that YES it’s ALL yoga because yoga is about exploration and awareness. But I’m just not sold on that argument for ME personally because I really like yoga as it is! And the “lose yourself in a flow” quality is inherent to what I feel my practice is about. I don’t want to tinker with that value so I can feel like what I’m doing is justified. I wholly respect other teachers in similar positions as myself who are continuing to call their classes yoga while expanding the yoga definition. That’s awesome. But for me, I think I need to separate the two.

So here we are. I’ve acknowledged that teaching yoga in the way that I love to experience yoga myself isn’t for me. And I’ve acknowledged that that’s OK. (And actually, it’s kind of great. Because now I might enjoy my personal yoga practice again in a way that I stopped enjoying it when I became a teacher.) And I’ve acknowledged that I don’t want to re-define yoga because I find so much value in it the way that it is.
So, what then? I have to:

2. Re-define myself as a teacher.
I’m an aspiring Movement Coach. (I say aspiring, because I’m having a really hard time owning it! I have a long way of learning to go). But that’s where I’m headed folks.

What’s a Movement Coach? Think of a mashup between a personal trainer, a physical therapist, a yoga teacher, and a life coach. Someone who will help you get out of pain, teach you to move better, and motivate you to move more so you feel confident in your body and empowered by your understanding of it; all by incorporating an understanding of anatomy, biomechanics, motor control, pain science, strength training, psychology, and mindfulness techniques. Yeah, see? I have a lot to learn! And the reality is, to really see positive change in someone with this work, one-on-one work rather than group classes is the most powerful and effective format.

So where does this leave me now? Still teaching yoga while continuing to grow my private client Movement Coaching business at the same time. Things don’t happen overnight. My classes will continue to be educational, strength based, methodical, and focused so while they may not be a flow class for you to tune out in, you’ll always be able to learn something about your body and apply it to your favorite flow yoga class. Eventually, in the right space with the right support system, I may evolve my classes from “yoga” to “movement” that entail all of the aspects about movement coaching I mentioned above, but in a group setting.

Crisis aborted. (till the next one!)

Note: Just a disclaimer that this process is neatly tied up in a blog post here, but it’s taken me about a year to come full circle. While it feels really good, I think the hardest part is yet to come: actually transitioning into this new phase and setting my self criticism and fear aside.