'I'm not an authentic yoga teacher'
Have you ever worried that your students will find out you aren’t the real deal and desert you? Have you wondered if they'd still come to your classes if they knew what you were really like behind the mask? If you’ve ever felt like this, you’re not alone.
A frightening number of yoga teachers live with 'imposter syndrome' every day. And I, my friend, am no stranger to it.
I remember being asked to teach my first yoga class soon after completing yoga teacher training. My friend Manuela’s regular teacher had gone overseas for a month, and she thought I’d make a great stand-in. My answer was a resounding “NO”. I could hear myself trotting out the excuses.
"I’m not ready. I’ve only just finished my training and I don’t have the experience. I don’t know enough. There are lots of teachers who’d be better than me. I’m not really a proper teacher yet."
Manuela wouldn’t take no for an answer, and after a lot of persuasion, I found myself standing in front of around 30 eager yogis, all waiting for their class.
It was just about the longest 90 minutes of my life. I’d spent over two weeks painstakingly preparing the class, but the moment I stepped onto the mat, I lost all faith in what I was about to teach. I saw the flaws in my sequencing. I felt self-conscious about my voice. The meditation felt shallow and phoney. I spent the whole class fighting with the deafening voices in my head that were shrieking, “You’re a fraud! You don’t know anything! You shouldn’t be teaching!” I limped on, getting smaller and smaller on the inside as I convinced myself that I simply didn’t deserve to be there. I just wasn’t good enough. At the end of the class, I thanked the students, told them it was my first ever class (why hadn’t I told them that at the start?), and joked that I should be paying THEM for having put up with such a useless novice. That didn’t go over well.
Manuela called me the next day to see how the class had gone. I burst into tears. I was convinced I’d never teach another class. Wise as an owl, Manuela replied, “It’s just perfectionism, you do it all the time. You’ll be okay.” I did it all the time?
She was right. I had a longstanding habit of finding fault with all my actions and achievements. Nothing I did was good enough. I felt like a fake because I believed that, when people liked me or my work, it had to be some kind of fluke. It was a familiar pattern.
I'm not alone
I know I’m not the only yoga teacher who feels this way. I see this pattern play out in my yoga teacher trainees every year. I've taught on many high quality, thorough, authentic, and rigorous trainings in the art and science of teaching yoga. But, every year, about a month before graduation, trainees bring a familiar story to their mentoring sessions. “I’ll never be a yoga teacher,” they say. “I don’t think I’m ready.” “I think I’ll need to do more training before I can actually teach.” While every yoga teacher should be committed to ongoing training, every single one of them is 100% competent and ready to start teaching. The only thing standing between them and a successful future in teaching is their pattern of perfectionism. They hold themselves up to criticism without self-compassion, and decide that they’re not good enough to be accepted as fully-fledged yoga teachers.
Sound familiar? Do you worry that you’re not good enough to teach yoga? Do you feel like a fraud because you can’t do all those advanced poses? Do you fret because you think you’re too old/too inexperienced/not thin or flexible enough to be a good teacher? Do you think, “I’ll be good enough when….” What are the stories going around in your head about your intrinsic worth as a yoga teacher?
It’s got to be perfect
We crave close connection with the world and feel terrible when we perceive ourselves as ‘different’ or ‘unworthy’. In an effort to overcome those feelings, we try to perfect ourselves. There’s a little voice inside your head whispering, “If I can just turn myself into the perfect person/partner/teacher, I’ll be worthy of acceptance. I’ll feel like I deserve to belong when I lose 5 kg, perfect kurmasana, or finish my Level 2 yoga teacher training. I’ll be worthy of healthy, loving relationships when I’ve banished my demons, ironed out my wrinkles, and patched up my flaws.”
We try to perfect ourselves in the hope that we’ll be worthy enough to live the lives we want. And if we are hell-bent on fixing ourselves, obsessing over our flaws, wallowing in our stuff, we’re not able to be fully in relationship with others. And that’s the missing piece of the puzzle. It’s our connection with others that makes life worthwhile – without a sense of belonging and acceptance, we are cut adrift, and our very survival is threatened. It’s our relationships that bring purpose, meaning, and fulfilment. It’s what makes us good yoga teachers.
Understanding the areas of your life that need work is an important part of the journey. But if you wait until you’ve ironed out all the wrinkles before you let yourself be happy, you’ll miss all the fun of the ride.
So, here’s the radical idea. Accept yourself as you are. You’re a work in progress. There’s stuff you’ve got worked out, there’s stuff you’re still working on. It’s all good. Can we just be okay with that and move on? Accepting that you are frightened, ashamed, full of feelings of inadequacy, etc. is not the same as resigning yourself to it (or ignoring it). It’s simply acknowledging your present-moment reality. And there’s no better place to start than right now.
You are already good enough
“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”– Lucille Ball
You are already good enough – accept who you are right now. Not who you think you ought to be. Not the version of you that’s mastered Kurmasana or lost 5 kg. Not your ‘best self’. You as you are right now, in all your glorious imperfection.
The truth is, if you’ve had some good training, you NEED to teach. You owe it to yourself and to the students out there who need your unique take on sharing the beauty and peace of yoga. You ARE good enough.
Self acceptance directly influences every aspect of your teaching and learning. Yoga teaches that we are all one. It teaches us that we are all expressions of divinity and that our true nature is pure love. When you come to know yourself fully, you come to know love. You are love.
So why don't we practice that core teaching of yoga? We should commit to knowing ourselves in our true, beautiful, blissful wholeness in the same way that we commit to our asana practice. And, in truth, our asana practice should be designed to move us towards knowing that truth.
A practice to make you fall in love with yourself
How do you feel about yourself when you wake up in the morning? What thoughts run through your mind when you look in the mirror? How do you feel about your body? Do you know how to recognize and meet your own needs? Do you practice self compassion by giving yourself permission to be exactly who you are?
As a yoga teacher, your job is to give your students the tools to help them meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Creating the authentic connection that allows you to do that can be challenging if you haven’t learned to meet your own needs. Self-compassion teaches how you accept your flaws and forge unconditional relationships in the world. It is the glue that connects you to the wider universe, and which shows you that you truly belong.
Make self-compassion the goal of your personal yoga practice. Choose poses, intentions, and techniques that nourish your connection to yourself. Disconnection from your own body is unbearably painful, but mindful asana can heal the rift, bring you home to your own body, and remind you that you already belong and have everything you need.
Feeling, not thinking
As you practice yoga, continually ask yourself, ‘how do I feel?’ Don’t pay attention to the thoughts, the stories, and the running commentary in your mind. Drop all the thinking and drop into pure feeling. What is your present-moment physical experience? This sensorial approach will bring you into a deeper connection with your whole being.
Your Self Love yoga practice
I developed a practice that was designed to pack you a picnic lunch, lace up your hiking boots, and wave you off on the road to self love. You'll find it at the link below – enjoy the trip!
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.