When you start teaching yoga, you may go through a number of phases over the years. Starting out, you might find yourself emulating your teacher and taking on his or her cadence, verbal instructions or teaching style. As you progress, you develop confidence in expressing things in your own way and grow stronger as a teacher. One area that often doesn’t get expressed or emphasized as much is the idea of showing vulnerability.
As teachers, we may feel like we’re the leader of the class and the one to be in charge, even if we consider our role one of “facilitator.” Sometimes, we might feel that this means we have to know it all and present a strong face all the time. This is an unrealistic expectation. Even if we don’t consciously think this or we rationally believe that it’s better to show more vulnerability, it’s sometimes an unconscious response to put up a front of strength, knowledge and authority. Believe me, this happens to teachers with the best of intentions and I’m one to have done it myself. I’m not sure if it’s a defense mechanism or one where we’re just trying to keep things moving but it happens.
What does being vulnerable means as a teacher? Do you go in and cry about your romantic challenges? Do you share personal stories with your students in the hope that they’ll see your “softer” side? Most likely, no, this would not be recommended. But there are some ways you can show your softer side and still be an effective guide, facilitator and teacher.
Laugh at your mistakes. When you make a mistake in the sequence, and you will, regardless of how long you’ve been teaching, laugh! No one expects you to be perfect at teaching and in fact, the less you try to be perfect, the more real you’ll come across. I will never forget in my first teacher training, it wasn’t the person who taught in practice sessions with great technical prowess that I remembered; it was the person who wasn’t so adept at the instructions but one who was able to laugh at him or herself and with us, through the blips and was authentic.
If you don’t know the answer to a student’s question, say so and follow up with them at the next class. I have learned many things about yoga by the questions students ask and the work I’ve done afterwards to find the answer. Listen, ask clarifying questions and get back to them. No one expects you to know it all and by giving an answer you “think” might be correct, you’re only trying to put on a front that you know it all.
Speak from the heart. While we don’t want to make our teaching about us, sometimes there are themes we can bring into class that come from our own experience. Themes around being strong, persevering, finding your center, staying calm in the face of a challenge, these can all be themes that are inspired by our own experience. In these classes, sharing a little bit from our own experience can help us show our vulnerable side.
Share a challenge you have with a pose as you teach it. Your students might think you can do all the poses with great ease but the truth is, as we know, we all have poses we struggle with on the mat. As you teach these poses, share what has worked for you and some of the resistance you’ve felt on a physical or mental level. Again, do this judiciously so as to keep the sharing helpful and less about shifting the focus from their experience to you.
Share what you’re working on in your practice. Whether it’s training you’re attending, a new pose you’re learning or even a new meditation technique, let your students know you’re always a student first.
The practice of teaching is in large part about breaking down the barriers we have to being real, being approachable, being compassionate and being authentic. Showing vulnerability is one of the best ways to connect with someone else and make a connection that is felt at the heart level, not the head.