I never set out to be a yoga teacher.
When I was ten I saw the first video played on MTV and declared that I would someday be the President of the new music network. It wasn’t a far stretch, my dad worked in the music world and it was my life. I planned the rest of my formative years plotting that dream; going to NYU, interning at MTV and ultimately landing a job there.
I ironically found yoga while producing a fitness video for MTV.
Nobody was really doing yoga in NYC in 1996. I thought yoga was for grandmas, I mean really-the only person I ever knew who did yoga back then was my grandma.
But then I tried it and immediately fell in love.
In love with the movement, the challenging poses, and mostly with the spirituality of it all; the thought that we have control over our thoughts and actions and that the lessons we learn on the mat and in the studio were completely transferrable to the world outside.
For the first time in my life I felt like I had control, at least some control, of my thoughts and my life. Before that I was constantly in a state of waiting for the other shoe to drop, for something bad to happen-actually expecting something bad to happen.
Growing up in a house with a bi-polar mother was like walking on eggshells 24/7. Was she going to be in a good mood, was something I did going to set her off, did the new jeans she bought me fit or was she going to be disappointed that I didn’t lose more weight?
Every day was a challenge as I tried to ditch those old thinking patterns as an adult, but these new tools I learned were helping me to create change, I could feel it, every day.
I suddenly wasn’t bothered by the jerky guys at work ignoring my input at meetings or the obnoxious woman at Equinox skipping the line and stealing my treadmill. Those two things alone would normally have put me into a tailspin of thinking I wasn’t as smart as them, or that I didn’t have the confidence to call her out because I wasn’t worthy.
I became more focused on giving 110% to every project I worked on, and to help others finish their work, even if it didn’t benefit me in any way.
I was more grateful for what I had and felt blessed to have stumbled upon this path.
I had more compassion for my mother and her illness and for myself who, at 24, was trying to deal with her recent suicide without much support. But I needed support, I was lost and drowning in feelings of abandonment and guilt.
The only place I found it was on my mat, surrounded by 40 other sweaty yogis trying to find their way in the world.
And despite my deeper feelings, yoga still made me feel more alive, more grounded, and excited to change my past conditioning. I wanted to share it with everyone I knew.
But I wasn’t ready.
I was still angry, I was confused, and I was grieving the death of my mother. I was in no position to start waxing poetic about the benefits of yoga when I was still suffering so hard on the inside.
There wasn’t enough yoga in the world to take away the pain at that time.
Looking back, that would have been the perfect time to share the one thing that kept me from acting on the feelings that made me contemplate joining my mother on the other side of that pain. The one thing that made me feel like I wasn’t one step away from swallowing a bottle a pills myself.
But I wasn’t ready.
Four years later I found myself on my mat, without a clue, still feeling like a yoga newbie-awkward, inflexible (in more ways than one), challenged.
Challenged because I was carrying with me all of the preconceived and judgmental notions about what it would really take to fix what might be broken (my body, my heart) but excited about being pushed beyond my prior limits.
I didn’t like being stretched all the time, but I still showed up as a willing participant. I was still aching FOR and BECAUSE OF my mother’s death and this was the only thing that made me feel better.
Could yoga heal that hurt? I wasn’t sure, but I continued to practice.
And I would have had learned nothing without the teachers. Many of whom I’ve forgotten at this point, so I won’t talk about them, but there is one I have to tell you about, because it was because of him that I’m connecting with you as a teacher now.
At first I had such a love/hate relationship with him due to his uber-militant, Iyengar teaching style, but his knowledge and wisdom of not only the physical poses, but of meditation and how to live all eight limbs off the mat intrigued me.
He’s now my most beloved mentor.
Actually I became obsessed with how yoga had the power to heal both physically and mentally because of him.
When I found him I had worked through some, but still not all, of my mother stuff. I had a beautiful family and felt grounded in our new community.
I finally felt supported, and ready to support.
I started sharing more about my practice with my husband, I started parenting from a place of mindfulness, and surrounding myself with more yogis who had the same moral compass as I did.
I still wasn’t a certified teacher, but I’d have my cousins doing arm balances at Christmas dinner, and my stressed out friend in legs up the wall pose during a playdate after her kid pushed my son off the stairs and she freaked out.
I would go to my son’s classroom and teach the kids how to “breathe like Darth Vader,” and remind my friend who was fighting with her husband to ask herself if she wanted to be right or if she wanted to be happy each time she picked on him for something that didn’t matter.
Slowly I got comfortable with the idea of sharing these great nuggets of wisdom, back-pocket poses, and quick and easy mindfulness tools that had serious impact on their daily happiness.
And did it ever.
Friends would thank me for teaching them the art of thinking before they speak, breathing before they act, or doing seated pigeon pose at their desk job to help their constant hip pain.
And it made me feel good to help them feel good.
It wasn’t a huge effort on my part, I was just sharing what I learned, tools that had helped me transform my mind/body health in ways that I never saw coming.
Maybe you’re in the same boat? Yoga has changed your life in some tiny or transformative way.
Maybe you’ve been practicing for a few years, or even a few months, but you don’t really share what you learn because you think you don’t know enough yet- and I get it, I felt the same way even after I got certified.
But here’s the deal, you’re not helping anyone by keeping all of those great tools and lessons you’ve learned to yourself. You don’t need a teaching certificate to be an impactful teacher.
Most of the life-changing things you’ve learned probably aren’t taught in a training, anyway.
They’re in the real-life, every day, down and dirty moments when you breathe yourself out of screaming at your kids, or you catch yourself judging your body in the mirror outside the shower, or you ask yourself if what you’re about to say to your husband or your friend, or your mother, is true, kind and necessary.
Those are the teachings that will change people’s lives- not instructing them on how to do a correctly aligned handstand.
They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice and teaching to become an expert on something, and yes, at this point 20 years later I consider myself one.
But not to everyone. I’m not going to go teach Deepak Chopra how to meditate. That’s ok, there are millions of people around the world that I can teach what I know, and they’ll benefit from it.
And YOU don’t need to be an expert, or a Guru, to share what YOU’VE learned.
You just need to have a bit more knowledge about something than the person you’re sharing it with.
And you don’t need to change someone’s life with that knowledge. It can be as simple as adding a little more peace to their day-whatever that looks like.
It could be a restorative pose that will help your mother stretch, a guided meditation you found on a cool app that will help a friend with her anxiety, or a quick dharma point about satya/truth that relates to gossiping that will help your daughter manage the mean girls at school.
It’s ALL yoga, and everything you learn from a teacher, from a book, from a video, or from your own personal experience is a lesson you can be sharing that will teach someone else how this practice can benefit their life.
Take a minute and look back on the most valuable things that people have taught you, the lessons you’ve learned.
Was your grandma and expert apple pie baker when she shared the family recipe? Probably not. Was your husband an expert runner when he finally got you out running with him in the park? Probably not. Was your son an expert lego master when he taught you how to help him find all the yellow 3 pronged pieces for his Star Wars ship? I’m assuming no.
Now think of how much you value what those friends, family members, or even your children have taught you. Probably a ton.
It’s YOUR turn to be the teacher. Not when you learn more, not next year, not when the planets align, NOW.
So here’s my challenge for you- what is the #1 thing that you’ve learned from your yoga practice that you can share with someone else right now?
Pick up the phone, text them a picture or pull them down on the floor and teach them a lesson you’ve learned that you know they’ll benefit from today.
Heck, even share it on social media and tag me @xenstrength so I can see it-I can’t wait to see what you share!
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