Surprise: Your Yoga Teacher Might Be Just As Nervous As You Are

Recently, I taught what I think is my best yoga class to date. Which is surprising, because it was the 5:45 a.m. class and I am far from a morning person. I also created the flow at 11:30 the night before.

Using the feedback I got from my studio manager in a recent evaluation, it felt like the light switched on. I was able to get off my mat, make adjustments, speak to purpose both of posture and practice, and truly engage with the students on a different level.

It was like magic.

I write all this to state that usually, I’m a mess (inside my head) during class.

nail biting
Flickr image via Freddie Peña

Much is made about how uncomfortable the student experience can be, as a newbie, or a plus-size yogi, or as the only black person in class. I get it, because I’ve been there. Judgment, whether from an internal voice or those around you, can cause discomfort and mess up an otherwise powerful yoga class.

As I’ve moved from student to teacher (though, aren’t we always students?), the voice inside my head still occasionally pipes up with doubts about my abilities. As a teacher, it’s not about how best to keep my balance in Half Moon. Now I wonder if I’m clearly explaining how to move into postures, properly motivating the students and being a proper example of a “yogi.”

Before my first flow class, I was a ball of nerves. Did the flow, you know, flow? Was I going to remember to discuss intention, or would I enter the room and immediately blank out? The thought of making hands-on adjustments terrified me. What if someone pulled something or passed out: could I handle in-studio injuries?

Though I’d love to believe that in due time, I will no longer get nervous before my classes but I doubt it. There is an energy unlike any other that comes from leading a yoga class. The senses are heightened as you become attuned to the energy of those around you. You can feel the room’s expectations of a transformative experience, and you want to deliver. I harness all of this and, instead of allowing it to overwhelm me, I turn it into my motivation.

So the next time you head into your studio, sign in and grab a mat and towel to set up for your hour of power, you should know that the slight tension in the air isn’t just coming from you. The same way you expect so much of yourself, your teacher is expecting even more of themselves as the leader of the class.

We want to give you a 10 experience, and we can be hard on ourselves if we flub or seem skittish. Be kind, not only to yourself, but to your teacher. We could use the love.

Inspiration for Creating Your Community: From Running to Yoga

The majority of my career has been spent in fields where diversity is lacking: travel/tourism, public relations/marketing and yoga. Despite the limited number of professionals who look like me, I’ve managed to create a network of contacts, associates and friends who understand the unique challenges people of color face in our shared industry.

Yoga, both as a community of practitioners and as a career, is facing a critical review. Many students feel a sense of otherness while in studio. And while you can find many photogenic yogis on Twitter and Instagram, it’s not likely that you will find a brown or black face among the well-known teachers and leaders at yoga conferences and events. Yoga may bring to mind peace, love and good feelings, but it’s also a business and a billion dollar industry. It’s hard to get excited about investing in an fitness environment that prices you out and doesn’t embrace you when you do venture into a class.

Knowing the challenge of representation in the yoga community, the growth of running clubs started and run by African American men and women has given me hope for what could happen to yoga. Groups like Black Girls RUN!, Black Men Run and Run2Live created multi-city communities from people who felt unwelcome in mainstream running clubs but still wanted to participate in the sport. Black Girls RUN! has been on my radar for about a year now. While they’re runs are far too early for my blood (seriously, what does 4:45 a.m. look like?), I have friends who swear by the camaraderie of the group, clocking multiple-mile runs two to three times per week.  The same high they get, heels pounding the pavement and sweat flying while they surpass personal records and create memories, is what I’d like to see created for men and women of color in yoga.

Now that I’ve made the comparison, I will point out that yoga is a different beast. For starters, most people practice yoga in a studio, which can be a restrictive cost. Running starts at walking, which requires minimal equipment (shoes, hat, iPod for music). Issues about costs can be addressed by offering classes at a reasonable rate in the communities that aren’t being exposed to yoga. Additionally, the running groups participate in races, which is another layer of satisfaction – who doesn’t love the thrill of a race and getting a medal? Yoga typically isn’t associated with competition or awards. By setting and achieving individual and group goals, yoga can create that feeling of accomplishment that some derive from running.

I was lucky enough to be in a certification course with two other Black women. I’ve kept in touch to learn more about their experiences of being a student and in finding a place to be a leader. The USA Today article and the founders of the running groups have inspired me to create a network of independent and in-studio teachers of color. Though Dallas is not considered a major hub like an Atlanta, NY or DC, the city is fitness-focused and greater visibility of black and brown yogis can bring additional people into the fold.

What is the multicultural yoga community like in your city? Do you see a unity like the running groups, or is it more disjointed? What are you doing to create a more inclusive community?

#YogaGoals – The Poses I’m Working On Lately

Here is the long and the short of it: I FINISHED!

That's me and my hair on the far right, looking way too excited for life!
That’s me and my hair on the far left, looking way too excited for life

After eight weeks of work, (some) tears, plenty of sweat and, thankfully, an absence of blood, the Scorpions completed the 200-hour Certified Yoga Teacher program. Much love to my fellow students, our trainers and the loved ones who dealt with our absence for those weekends. Although I’m convinced the BF secretly loved the training program because he got to watch college and professional football undisturbed all weekend!

Now that I’m finished, I’m seeing friends, sleeping and enjoying life. Even though I’m not in a studio 12 hours a day, I’m still working on my (semi-) daily practice because that’s the only way I’ll grow and start sequencing series of my own. In yoga training, we studied more than 100 poses, which only scrapes the surface of the full range of yoga poses and the ways your body can express a posture, from beginner to advanced. Below are some of the poses I will be focusing on as I commit to a daily practice, deepening my range of motion and moving to a higher level of understanding.

Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

Photo from dahon (Flickr)
Photo from dahon (Flickr)

This pose gave me the blues for the longest time. I was making the mistake of thrusting my head back to reach for my feet without first learning how to open my chest and lift up out of the lower back. Best advice I got about Camel: Squeeze your glutes. Harder than you think, squeeze them, and press your hips forward. Use your inner thighs to stabilize and press into your shins.


Crow/Crane Pose (Bakasana)

It’s me, preparing for Crow
Still me, working on that Crow

I have a confession. I’ve fallen out of Crow pose, onto my face, no fewer than two times. Since I have cat-like reflexes, I managed to get an arm in front of my face before it met the floor. The damage from embarrassment was done. As you can see from the photos below, I have some work to do before I can achieve two goals in this pose: knees in the armpits and straight arms. Again, this is why I practice. I’m excited to see the progress in this, since I have dated photos of where I have been.

Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)

Seeing the world upside down.
Seeing the world upside down.

This is one of those lifetime goal poses for me. Inversions scare most of us – the thought of being upside down, supporting oneself completely, can be scary. Once I learned about the proper alignment, I stopped throwing my legs over my head. Best advice I’ve received: engage your mula bandha (root chakra). Using the muscles in the center of your body helps to align the body, engage the thighs and torso and stay centered in an upside down position. Next step for me is to find my center and balance without the use of a wall.


Now it’s your turn: What is your challenge? Is it a specific posture? Finding an inspiring series? Tell me your favorite posture and how you’re working it in practice.