Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience to mine: you stumbled upon yoga, got hooked, and it changed your life for the better—so much that you decided you’d become a yoga teacher.
“If practicing yoga makes me feel this peaceful, happy, and together," you thought, “imagine what teaching yoga would feel like!”
And thus, shining inwardly as you imagined all the students whose lives you would transform through your teaching, you gleefully signed up for teacher training.
Maybe it was during your teacher training, maybe it was a few months or years into teaching, but at some point, it happened. The practice that had at one point saved your life seemed suddenly to blow it to pieces. The sanctuary that had been your mat now felt like solitary confinement. The teachings that had consoled you now taunted you.
You felt abandoned by yoga. Betrayed. Hurt. If you could have punched yoga in the face, you would have. If you never did another sun salutation again it would be too soon. And so after practicing religiously, you swore off your practice and walked away from your mat.
If you’re in this place right now, please know: You are not alone.
Also know this: Congratulations! Your practice is working.
I suppose you won’t appreciate this second statement if you’re in the dark night. I wouldn’t have when I was there. In fact, three months post-graduation from my yoga teacher training, standing in the debris of what had been my marriage and my life as I had known it, if you would have told me that my practice was working I probably would have said, “Screw you, and screw yoga!”
I barely practiced for the entire rest of that year, terrified that each time I stepped on my mat I would trigger another bomb in my life. Boom! There goes another relationship. Boom! There goes the job I defined myself through. Boom! There goes the belief system that held everything together.
But underneath the pain, fear, and feelings of betrayal, I still loved yoga. I just didn’t know what to do with it.
Lessons from My Post-Honeymoon Yoga
It would be years before I would find the mentors and the personal experience that would allow me to see that the end of my honeymoon with yoga had marked the beginning of my deepened relationship with it. Once I dropped the expectation that teaching yoga would make me into the happiest version of myself, I could begin to accept the gift that it did have to offer: the tools to simply become myself.
For those of you who have been there, you know this is a mixed blessing. Becoming yourself means that everything that is not in alignment with the truth of who you are, whether internal or external, whether your mind is on board with it or not, will go away. This can be excruciating.
But becoming yourself also means that you get to have you. Which is better than anything else in the world. And also scary. And hugely vulnerable.
So this is why you know your practice is working, because you wouldn’t have gotten to the point where everything seemingly falls apart if you hadn’t gained enough skill to be with yourself in discomfort. And you wouldn’t be able to feel when something was out of alignment in your life if you hadn’t grown enough sensitivity to open the door to your own vulnerability.
If you’re in that place right now, what I would say to you is this: Let your heart break for all that you’re losing and all that you’re scared of. But also let it crack open with the profound joy of falling in love with who you really are.
Don't Shut Down—Just Change Your Expectations
I feel honored now to get to mentor teachers through this process. Today, working with a new client, I feel such immense compassion for how lost and alone he feels, as well as such sweetness for how I can see him beginning to grow an allegiance to himself in the process.
He’ll need this allegiance. Because after 14 years of my own process as a teacher and through mentoring dozens of other teachers I’ve learned that this is not the only time in his path as a yoga teacher that he will feel this way. It’s not an easy path. Teaching yoga exposes your vulnerabilities so readily, and it’s really damn hard to make a living doing it. And those are just two of a myriad reasons why teaching yoga is not for sissies.
So I say that he’ll need this allegiance to self because there’s something else I’ve come to appreciate about the practice of yoga: Yoga doesn’t abandon you, it just clearly mirrors how you abandon yourself.
The times when my practice felt prickly or confrontational were times when something happened in my life that I didn’t want to feel. Since yoga demands that you feel, the last thing I would want to do was go to my mat. Instead I would resist the feeling and shut down. I’d channel my hurt feelings into blaming yoga for not being there for me when in reality, it was me who was not there for me.
Until you drop the expectation that yoga is meant to take away your pain or suffering, you will always feel betrayed or abandoned by yoga when you feel broken open, scared as hell, or totally lost.
You have to trust that your practice is big enough to hold your rage, despair, and confusion as well as your love, bliss, and purpose. You also have to trust that your practice has given you the tools to be with the full spectrum of who you are. It’s up to you to not abandon yourself, to stop resisting your own becoming, and to muster the courage to get back to yourself on your mat.
What Your Students Really Want From You
Your students don’t want a rock star teacher. They don’t even want a rock. They want someone who has been there too, someone who has integrity, someone they can trust. With that, I leave you with some of my favorite words from Rumi:
Very little grows on jagged rock,
Be ground, be crumbled
So wildflowers will come up where you are.
You’ve been stoney for too many years
Try something different
This article originally appeared on YogaDork. Used with permission.