Monday, January 25, 2010

A Case of Cold Feet

OK. So I know this is a silly question, but….Has anyone else gotten really nervous before teaching yoga in their first couple years? You know, the type of nerves that make you queasy and wonder what you were thinking when you decided to become a yoga teacher? Never mind that you completed the necessary certification and have gotten positive feedback. Still, the case of nerves can be unsettling!

As a teacher by trade, I know that such nerves are a natural and inevitable part of the process. The first couple years I spent as a Women’s Studies Professor were full of anxiety, second-guessing myself, and stage fright. Over the years, I have come to see that no matter how prepared one is in one’s field, part of the process of being a novice teacher is learning from the daily experiences in the classroom. There’s a confidence and knowledge that can only come from that hands-on experience. And, of course, a certain degree of nervousness often makes us better at what we do.

But I had an epiphany on my yoga mat the other day, (a place that is increasingly becoming the site of profound realizations). I discovered that when I started to second-guess myself in the academic classroom, I would just overcompensate with more preparation. I relied on my intellect to shore up the armor around my nerves, to give me the illusion of confidence that everything was OK. That was a safe route, since institutions of higher learning reward the overemphasis on the intellect.

But the Buddhist writer Pema Chödrön teaches that underneath most emotions, such as anger, fear, or anxiety, lies a deep tenderness that we often strive to avoid by reacting in habitual ways. Teaching yoga has taught me that it’s the raw softness underneath the nerves that offer the deepest growth possibilities. Intellect as armor only avoids that more fundamental learning. Though I can and will continue to study to prepare for class, the real gift comes from meeting my own self with the same compassion and patience with which I meet the students in my yoga classes. I have found that when I open to the vulnerability underneath the nerves, I can be a much wiser teacher, for myself and others.