A few months ago I tore a snippet out of Yoga Journal where the magazine asked prominent teachers in the Western yoga community if the typical 200-hour yoga teacher training is sufficient to make someone an instructor. Before even scanning the responses I exclaimed, “No!” RYT-200 (Registered Yoga Teacher) is my certification level and I’ve never felt like that first rung—the one most widely maintained throughout the yoga teaching community—should be considered enough to let a person call themselves a yoga teacher. When I do (and I try all sorts of semantic backflips to avoid it whenever possible) I feel like a fraud.
I’ve always been a stickler for credentials, and while I’ve got the common credentials—call it the yoga teaching Associates degree—I’ll feel like a hack until I get at least one of two things: the next notable level up, a 500-hour certification, or loads more experience. The 500 takes time, and I’ve got that underway, but I don’t care how much classroom training you’ve got if you don’t have the experience. Unfortunately the only way to accumulate experience teaching is to teach. Teach real people. Sorry students, I’m learning to get good at teaching you by doing it.
There are times when I’m teaching and I think, Why in the world are you people listening to me? I have no idea what I’m talking about. Which isn’t true. I know stuff. I’ve become as meticulous a student as ever hits the mat. I research all the garbage that comes out of my mouth. I’m conscientious about giving safe, supportive instruction. But for the impact 12 years of yoga has had on my body, good and maybe not so good, and the weight it has in my life, I take seriously the job of teaching it, no matter where the class or how many students. I can’t know—usually the practitioner won’t even know—if that class could be the tipping-point. Don’t blow it, Megan. I’ve had teachers who don’t know anatomy enough to understand that what's falling out of their mouths is bullshit and detrimental. I’ve had teachers give me bad verbal and hands-on adjustments that exacerbated injury. I feel like it takes so much more than what I have in order to be qualified to be entrusted with a room of bodies and minds ready for overhaul. But there I am, the little in leggings cueing you into Vira II again.
I’ve struggled with the shift from full-time drug rep and part-time designer to stay-at-home wife, sporadic designer, and yoga teacher. Leaving one set of daily activities for the other was the easiest, most seamless thing I’ve ever done; it’s been the fact of change in income that’s rattled me. Wise or not, our society uses annual spoils as a way to mark one’s level of professional achievement, and because I exceeded the average I bought into it. (If I’m not surpassing a particular standard I discount its relevance and therefore maintain success. Redefine the win, Dear Reader.)
According to the U.S. census I was doing okay for myself. When in 2015 I left my pharmaceutical career of 10 years, graphic design money aside, I was pulling in 175% of the median household income. Not too shabby. I went from a single W-2 that said I made $97,000 to a handful of 1099s that put my annual fiscal contribution closer to $7,000. The math done for you: when I quit my job pedaling insulin to instead teach some yoga I took a $90,000 pay cut. Thus with my estimation of self-worth tied loosely to how much money I was making, I’ve loosely come to think of myself as worthless.
Turns out that pisses Jim off.
On a drive home from dinner last week I started whining about how since my “career” shift I have no value (fiscally speaking; though not suffering specifics I went with all-encompassing) my husband’s response was to a little bit lose his shit.
“Stop saying you don’t add any value. I’m sick of hearing that. I’m proud of you.”
“I teach yoga.”
“Yeah. I’m proud of what you do.”
“I make no money. I’m worthless.”
“When you say that it makes me think you’re unhappy.”
“I’m not unhappy. I just have no financial value.”
Let’s just sum up the whole conversation and problem itself by saying that I might have erred in tying up self-worth with income. Doing that now leaves me inconsequential. When I talk to a new student before class I tell them that if a posture hurts during class, Hey, stop doing it and we’ll figure out something else. Maybe obey my own rule?
Jim’s end point landed at if you’re unhappy—I’m actually not—you’re welcome to go back to work if you’d like—oh, I do not—but you oughta know that you have huge value to me—aw—and to your students—aw . . . wait, really?
It goes back to that 200-hour certificate being puny. I’m a new teacher. I’ve been teaching for a year and a half now. How can I possibly provide any instruction worth following and coming back to when my training was so little and my experience not much to speak of?
The only answer that works for me is the 3,500 hours I’ve spent taking yoga classes. That’s what I have to offer—my experience as a student. The 200 hours of teacher training gave me the tools to translate that experience to classes that I hope I hope I hope are useful. I have experience with yoga injury, success in postures, shifts in my practice, catering to my individual anatomy, curbing my ego, stepping back from the practice, new understanding of what my practice means to me, stretch, strength, the task of balancing the two, learning how yoga fits in my life, how it affects my life, how that changes over time, knee problems, sacroiliac issues, shoulder trauma, reshaping my down-dog, and with being a longtime, attentive, often-obsessive yoga student.
Now, at this rate, according to the 10,000 hours-to-mastery rule from Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, I’ve only got 25 more years of taking yoga classes until I’m an expert student and 45 more years of teaching until I’m a master instructor. So come take my class when I’m 79. It’ll be siiick.
My teaching style isn’t what’s common in a vinyasa class. It’s irreverent. Which maybe isn’t the best idea when it comes to yoga. (Look at me, just bursting with confidence today.) But I see it like this, if a student has a good time in a class they’re more likely to come back, to build a practice over time, to go to more classes and other teachers, and to find value in time on the mat. So while perpetually tugging the class back to breath, I lean toward partnering the physical with the funny.
I believe that you need more than one reason to come to the mat. Maybe it’s meditation. Maybe it’s that you have a good time. That you dig being upside down. That you have new yoga gear or like seeing your yoga friends. I don’t care what brings you to the mat. I care that you come. And relying on one reason alone—well, it’s just what I do on Wednesday afternoons—often isn’t enough for long-term attention. What brought you there becomes irrelevant as the practice seeps in. You get stuff on the mat. Maybe not what you thought you wanted but instead what you needed. For that you have to show up.
My role as the girl in the front of the room is to try to give you as many reasons to keep showing up as I can. So using the assets I come by naturally, I augment with play; we have fun in class—safe fun, really, really safe fun—so that that one class can contribute to creating a personal conviction that yoga is something worth doing.
Whenever I go to the dentist I always apologize for my teeth. Which are straight, white, and cavity-free. This last time I bashfully admitted that while I usually floss at least five days a week, lately it’s only been, like—gasp—two. I’m sorry my mouth is so gross. The hygienist replied, “It’s always the ones that fret and apologize that have nothing to worry about. They’re the ones with good care that don’t realize that their teeth are great. Your hygiene is perfect. It’s the people who don’t care that have problems. You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I see.” (Insert some histrionic gagging here. Dentists. Gynecologists. Mouths. Lady Business. The people that choose to deal with that stuff as their bread and butter are more than a few slices shy of a loaf.)
I’d like to think that it works the same way with yoga teaching. It’s the ones that go into it too quickly and with overconfidence that aren’t doing a good job and the ones that agonize and apologize and are sure they’re a disaster that don’t realize that they actually don’t have anything to worry about. Let it be that. Let it be that so that I can let my head move on from certainty that I suck and fear that I’m destroying the practices entrusted to me to working on my goal of swearing less while teaching yoga. Not kicking the cussing altogether, you understand, just ratcheting back that shit.