At first, I thought it was the weather – a wet week often sees student numbers drop at the yoga studio. Then the sun came out, but the students didn’t return.
In my heart of hearts, I knew why my students had gone. I was a rotten teacher. I hadn’t started off that way. My passion for sharing the healing magic of yoga had seen my classes numbers build, with many students coming back term after term.
But things had changed and I knew I wasn’t giving my students what they needed. I couldn’t. I had nothing left to give.
It all started about 6 months after my daughter was born. I’d gone back to teaching part time but was struggling with the demands of looking after a baby without any family support, coupled with financial strain of my partner being retrenched.
A bout of post-natal depression, a few unpaid bills and lack of sleep took their toll. I was confused, directionless and losing confidence in myself. My body had changed so much over the previous 12 months that I didn’t event trust that. That’s not a good combination for a yoga teacher, somebody who’s supposed to be calm, clear and physically capable. No wonder my students left me.
How could I teach my students to find balance, clarity and self-acceptance if those things were a mystery to me? I realized that my classes had been reduced to mechanically going through the yoga poses, lying in savasana for a few minutes a the end, then waving goodbye. The connection, insight and purpose that are the hallmarks of a good yoga class had left the building, along with my self esteem.
I also realized that there were no quick fixes. No amount of self-pampering, retail therapy or ‘me-time’ was going to change things. Well, at least not in the long term. I couldn’t wave a magic wand and change my circumstances. The only sane response was to accept the situation, along with my responses to it. That meant admitting I wasn’t, and never could be, super-woman. It meant acknowledging my limitations. It meant being honest about who I am and how I feel. Scary.
Of course, that is what yoga’s all about. Only I’d forgotten in my hazy half-life of fatigue and despondency. I’d forgotten that yoga wasn’t designed to make you feel fabulous all the time. It was developed to help us truly know and accept ourselves. Warts and all.
Self acceptance is at the heart of yoga, stripping away the layers of artifice and habit until we can quieten the voices in our head that tell us we’re not good enough. It’s the foundation that underpins all of our relationships, our work and our happiness. And it starts now. Not when you’ve reached all the impossible goals you’ve set yourself. You can wait your whole life to shed 5kg, find Mr.Right or pay off the mortgage and even if you achieve those things, there’s evidence to suggest that you still won’t be happy with yourself.
Being fine with who you are, right now, is a big relief. It also brings great clarity.
Despite my passion for yoga, I gave most of my classes away as I realized that, at that particular moment in time, I simply couldn’t teach properly. That didn’t make me a bad teacher. It made me a woman who needed to be doing something else at that particular time.
As a yogi, I’ve found greatest tool for self acceptance is to stay present to each and every moment. I started to make this the goal of my yoga practice, focusing exclusively on the moment to moment experience of my practice, bringing my mind back to my present moment reality whenever it wandered. I also increased my mindfulness meditation practice, the ultimate tool for becoming present. Sitting still, watching every breath and gently returning the mind to its point of focus each time it wanders.
A few months, and lots of loving self-reflection, later, I returned to teaching with renewed confidence. In accepting myself, my circumstances and limitations, I’d given myself permission to stop pushing. Yes, go ahead and be your best, but sometimes your best isn’t very good and you just have to be ok with that. That realization allowed me to show myself compassion, take some rest and regain my strength. And of course, I was able then able to share those qualities with my students, who slowly found their way back to my classes.
Experience a Metta Meditation for cultivating self-compassion.
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.