Practice What You Teach: Keeping Teaching Real through the Evolution of Your Personal Practice

01-May-2018

Practice What You Teach: Keeping Teaching Real through the Evolution of Your Personal Practice

-By Sam Jacobs

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”
~ Anton Chekov

In 2015, after teaching part-time for three years, I decided to make the leap and become a full-time yoga teacher. While I loved the shift in focus of my life, by the end of that year, I was disenchanted with teaching and found myself robotically, mindlessly, offering sequences and intentions for practices that felt more like doing what I had to do to make ends meet instead of laboring with passion and love. I dropped back to part-time teaching, aiming to develop my own practice and uncover more pieces of myself that might expand the horizon of what I could offer my students. It worked. I typically did yoga five days a week, at a wide array of studios and for myself at home. I took bigger breaths. I read more about yogic philosophy. I travelled. Teaching began to feel like a privilege again. Now, I find myself with an incredible opportunity to teach-full time once more, and as I begin down this familiar road, I am trying to learn from my past mistakes.

As a full-time teacher, one of my biggest challenges is keeping things on the mat fresh and interesting not just for my students, but also for myself. Despite a principle that I (and most teachers I know) embrace: yoga is a lifestyle that embodies growth and self-care, when I lead ten to twenty classes a week, the first thing that goes out the window is taking the time to concentrate my own practice. With a packed teaching day ahead, I’ll glance at my mat rolled in the corner with a sense of reluctance; I’ll start to envy my students’ opportunities to practice and lament the circumstances that are keeping me from my own. In short, I can easily stumble into behavior that runs counter to asteya, or non-stealing. I take from myself: time and opportunity to let my passion thrive, and in turn, take from my students because the practices I lead can often become speckled with my own jealousy and desires. In order to confidently make the transition back to full-time teaching, here are some concrete strategies I have implemented, and I hope they will be of use to both part-time and full- time teachers who might resonate with challenges I have faced.

Part of My 40-Hour Work Week Includes My Own Practice 

As most of us have heard in one training or another, you can only teach as far as you yourself have journeyed. I hope to lead dynamic, inspiring classes, that aspiration is realized most fully when my own practice is growing. For me, this means giving myself permission to carve time to practice. Part of my schedule now includes time to do yoga; I look at is as part of my job (and I am very lucky to teach at a studio that also considers the development of my personal practice a vital component to my teaching). The more diverse the set of practices and teachers, the better, and returning to a studio “home” that is not a place I am a teacher has been immensely beneficial. When I practice at a studio where no one knows me as a teacher, I experiment more. I don’t worry about leading by example. I have the space to find my yoga with a pure and burning curiosity. When scheduling does not permit, I practice at the studio where I teach. While I do see students alongside me on the mat who know me as a teacher, it revs up my own mental practice to stay in the moment, in my own head and my own body. And, when a day is simply too booked to take a studio class, I am finding the disciple to unfurl my mat in my apartment and hop on. Even if only for fifteen minutes first thing when I wake for a few Sun As & Bs. Because there are lessons my body and breath teach me every time that can help me to find nuggets of inspiration for the teaching day ahead.

I Honor a Day of Rest

At least one day a week, I do not practice, nor do I lead a practice. While the yoga happens every day now that it has become part of my life, taking space away from the physical practice is a cornerstone of my self-care. I find within this window of twenty-four hours, my body has time to integrate the lessons of the week and my mind has time to clear to make room for new ideas and inspiration for the next set of classes. I used to worry that if yoga was not a constant, daily fixture, I would somehow lose it. Now, I focus on aparigraha, or non-grasping. Rather than pressuring myself to find yoga every day through asana, I am starting to let it wash over and through me. To believe that it is in me. Like any healthy relationship, space is essential. Rather than holding on to it so tightly, like sand slipping through a tightly clenched fist, I give myself a little more room to breathe.

I Am Learning To Be Honest With Myself and My Students When I Encounter Burn-Out

Lastly, rather than pretending I am some kind of mutant super-human, I am trying to integrate more satya, honesty, into my teaching. When I can admit to my students that I am frazzled, tired, or I have been teaching a few more classes than is ideal for me and feeling the reverberations of my own practice slipping, I find it invites conversations after class about self- care for all of us. I am trusting that the lessons I offer are beneficial when they are not just about my strengths, but also my struggles. Although I have set goals for myself about how I want to teach and take care of myself, I don’t meet them every day or every week. I fall into old patterns. I still push myself harder than I should. I don’t always see myself clearly. Saying these things aloud, owning them, and teaching from where I am gives me and my students permission to dismantle the pressure of perfection. When I openly bring my fully-flawed, constantly evolving self to the mat, I take on the dual roles of student and teacher. Occupying both spaces at once is the most certain path I have found towards a sustainable teaching career.
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