Demystifying the Yoga Teacher
Written by Natalia Lobo-Guerreo
The first yoga classes I ever attended were taught by a young Colombian couple that had just returned from India. They had been living in an Ashram in Rishikesh and had completed their Yoga teacher training there. The asanas would always be accompanied by the teachers’ gentle voice who had the ability to queue the pose while mixing in some yoga philosophy. She always talked about pain as an opportunity for growth, in the pose and in life, and emphasized how we could become familiar with it, while stretching and breathing into it. Despite the fact that I was able to understand what the teacher was trying to say, I couldn’t fully grasp what it all meant back then.
I felt profound admiration for this my yoga teachers, not only because they appeared to have a “perfect life” but also because they were kind, gentle, generous and even though they did go through some hardships, as we all do, they appeared to be untouched by grief or fear. It´s probably from them, that I created the imaginary perfect being called a “yoga teacher”.
Later in life I moved to New York and got really hooked into yoga. I started feeling the need to practice yoga at least three times a week, not only because it was the only place where I felt I could slow down and be present, but also because I was practicing hot yoga, which provided instant tropical weather while I was attempting to survive winter. During these classes I always admired the yoga teacher´s ability to stand on their heads and talk about balance and control, while the rest of us were about to fall like domino blocks.
In this studio, teachers would always invite different topics and intentions to class. Sometimes they would talk about the importance of letting go, of not trying to control everything. Other times they used flexibility as an example to attain the pose, but also as a metaphor for life. After the yoga session I would often find myself wondering about the life of the yoga teachers. I was certain that they were also human beings, however they seemed unaltered by the daily stress that comes with life or by the real discomfort some yoga poses imposed. There was a part of me that wanted to be like that. I wanted to stop worrying, I wanted to remain calm under stress and ultimately stop any type of suffering and pain.
When I travelled to Thailand to begin my yoga teacher training, I met a lot of wonderful teachers and yogui colleagues. We came from all over the world, had different backgrounds and experiences. During the teacher training I started to realize how confused we all were. Some wanted to stop having desires because they thought that’s where their suffering came from. Some of them wished to stop feeling completely, in order to stop suffering. Others like myself, believed innocently in unconditional love, no matter what. Ultimately, we all wanted to be the perfect yogui: flexible, grounded, controlled, strong, kind, disciplined and loving, with an infinite source of patience and an inexhaustible amount of inner peace.
A year after having completed my yoga teacher training, I was able to share many of the lessons that I had learned and I felt quite contempt with my new acquired knowledge. Somehow, I felt a little bit less afraid of life and certainly less afraid of feeling. I had finally learned how to observe my pain during a yoga pose instead of denying it, but little did I know that I would have 6 months of trial coming my way, in which I would test this new ability.
During the next 5 months that followed, I experienced a bad break up, a motorbike accident and for the first time in my life, I had been fired from my job. It was probably one of the most difficult times, but instead of trying to avoid the suffering and deny the pain, like I used to, I decided to embrace it all: the anger, the fear of being alone and economically unstable, the sadness from the heartache and the rage against my boss.
While I was going through this whirlwind of emotions I came across a quote that a yogi friend posted on Facebook, it was a quote by Courtney Walsh about being human. After reading that quote I felt the pieces of my life falling into place. I understood that before this painful experience I was doing it all wrong. By trying not to feel, I was creating anxiety. And it was only when I gave up on trying to keep control and dove into the sea of my emotions, that I was able to live again. I stopped fearing sadness and pain. I realized I was bigger than them and that they were just feelings that would come and go all throughout my life.
Following this experience, I realized I had demystified the yoga teacher. It wasn’t that yoga teachers didn’t feel or suffer. They do. They are just like everyone else. They fall in love, they cry, they go out partying and like to dance. They lose their balance and break their bones. The only difference is that they are not afraid to feel. It is thanks to fear and pain that I have comprehended the importance of bringing all of my humanness to yoga.
I teach with my clumsiness, and sense of humor. I have lost my balance and wobbled in the middle of tree pose while demonstrating it to students. I accept my mistakes openly and apologize when I say “move your knee” when I mean to say “move your elbow”. I try to come into the yoga space just as I am, mistakes and all, in order to demystify the yoga teacher and invite acceptance, feelings, flaws, and the beauty of being human.