Confessions of a yoga teacher: I am not a yogi(ni) and neither are you


I had a bit of a meltdown yesterday. It was an all-wheels-falling-off-non-stop-crying-I-have-to-take-the-afternoon-off kind of day. I was feeling really sorry for myself and I wasn’t in a good space from the time I got up.

I did manage to teach an ok class. It was a good turnout of 12 students at 7.15am, all of whom were ‘repeaters’ which reminds me that I have taught some above average classes in the past, enough to bring them back again. This morning though, at least from my internal perspective, was not my best.

I found myself getting irritated with one particular student though who I already knew pushed my buttons a bit.

This is something that shouldn’t technically happen as a yoga teacher – experiencing negative thoughts about your teaching or your students whilst teaching a discipline which incorporates in its inherent nature tolerance and serenity. But it happens, and I’m sure (or I hope) other yoga teachers will nod in agreement. I may teach yoga but I am not yet a yogini.

These days it is popular for people who practice yoga to refer to themselves as a yogi or yogini (feminine).
I tend to agree with one of my old Iyengar teachers in that the simple act of practising (or even teaching) yoga does not mean you are a yogi. She wouldn’t dream of referring to herself as a yogini and yet she was one of the most accomplished teachers I have ever practised under. defines a yogi as:

a person who is a master of yoga

The Yoga Word Wise definition of a yogi/yogini is

a yoga practitioner who is an adept; someone who has completed the path of yoga and is fully self-realized. Strictly speaking a yogi is someone who has attained complete union, or at least a degree of union.

T.K.V. Desikachar puts it well too. He describes a yogi as

one whose prana is all within the body.

I am the first to admit that I am not any of the above.

There are days, like yesterday when my prana is everywhere and anywhere but my body! I have days when I feel like I take the expression of being ”all over the place” to a new level. I may practise yoga, I may love the practise, I may live the practise to the best of my current ability, but I am not a yogi. Not yet, maybe not ever. I am only human and not even the bendiest human at that.

So, getting back to this student who is cunningly yet unwittingly reversing the roles on me by teaching me about my own weak areas…

The first time she came to my class she was 12 minutes late. Normally I would shake my head, smile and turn people away by this stage. Most people wouldn’t even have the gall to walk into a class 12 minutes late. But we had done a long pranayama and centring exercise at the beginning of the class and we were only just preparing for salutations so I went to the door to meet her and said in a low and, ok I admit, stern voice ”Normally I wouldn’t let you join this late but grab a mat and find a spot quickly and quietly.”

Then throughout the class she looked like this was her first time. She was flinging and flopping her body and going off in a direction other than the one I was instructing. I tried to give her a little extra assistance, but sensed a mixture of confusion and resistance. Maybe that was just coming from me. After the class she stopped to apologise for being late, and to tell me that what I had said when she came in had embarrassed her. She said she had been coming to yoga for years and questioned my hard line about time-keeping. I explained that yoga is a discipline after all. To be on time for class is to have respect for your teacher and other students. The conversation ended well, she seemed to take it in and understand the spirit of my correction and the importance of being punctual to class.

She was on time the next week, which I was pleased about. This quickly dissipated when she spoke obliviously on her mobile phone in the corner while other students were preparing for the class. Anyway, I tried to ignore it and trust her to stop on time. Which she did, more or less…More flinging and flopping throughout the class. This is normal, and completely manageable in a new student. But this lady has been doing this for years, seemingly uncorrected and unguided or just doggedly determined not to take that correction and guidance. It’s impossible to verbally cue her as either she doesn’t listen or doesn’t understand, so I have to physically adjust constantly. Where do I draw the line? My attention is becoming divided. I re-group as I go and afterwards she thanks me sweetly for the class. Now I feel worse for getting annoyed.

This week she was on time, there was no mobile phone, but she was teaching her own class in her head. What she was doing was not was I was instructing. I was at a loss. I tried a few times to help her gently mainly where safety was concerned. ”Soften your knees, try not to lock them etc” I think what got me yesterday was that I felt out of control with her.

Did I really just say that. Out of control? I am not in control of my students! Do I not say at the beginning of class after class: ”listen to your own body first and my instructions second. Your practise is your own” ?!

Anyway, the class progressed regardless and things went smoothly from the outside. When I instructed everyone into relaxation she proceeded to take herself into a shoulderstand…ignore it, let her do what she likes. I had given up on this occasion.

There were a few other things in the morning. An article I read about a woman who had a double mastectomy to avoid getting breast cancer, a photo online of a small boy wandering across the Syrian desert. At work I had to make some calls which I wasn’t too keen on making. The final straw was when I called a Russian agent who we work with and the person who answered spoke no English. Normally this would be no big deal. She spoke to me in Russian, which, incidentally I don’t speak either. I don’t know what it was about that exchange, but it just seemed so pointless. That brief non-sensical conversation became an allegory for everything…chattering away to each other and not listening, not understanding, nothing making sense, least of all my brother’s recent death. It all came up. I asked for the afternoon off. I went home, watched a sad movie and just let myself cry about it all. I gave myself permission to lose it. Then I slept.

When I woke up I felt groggy but better. I felt like I could breath evenly again, my legs felt steadier, my head felt clearer. I went to fetch my son. I joked and cuddled with him. I skyped my mom, I made dinner. I didn’t panic when he suddenly crashed and refused to eat or bath. I managed to coerce him gently into washing his hands and changing. I held him while he had a little cry because even that seemed too much for him. I felt as though I understood how he was feeling. I read him ‘The Poo Bus’ (don’t ask!) which made him smile and tickled his back while he fell asleep. The world felt in fragile balance again. For both of us.

This morning when I woke up, before I did anything, I went to meditate. So far today has been much better. Next time I have my challenging student, I will remember to practice compassion and discipline in equal measure in my teaching. I will remind myself that we are all still learning.

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