by Seka Ojdrovic-Phillips, Spirit Fire Yoga
Yoga in all its forms has brought me head-to-head with my greatest challenges and the satisfaction that comes from working through them.
My own brand of yoga evolution led me to teaching, first in New Zealand and now in the States.
As with every evolution, I learned tons each time I showed up to teach. Showing up at anything is all it takes.
While making mistakes as a teacher, I grow and learn to become more connected to others, and kinder to myself.
As long as I’m alive I’ll make mistakes. And, by god, I’ll learn from them.
Here are five I learned starting out:
1. I thought that good yoga teachers were ass-kickers.
Freshly minted and eager to impress, I rocked up to my mat those first few classes with a heart full of enthusiasm and a nearly impossible-to-practice class plan. Because I was at a stage in my own practice when nothing thrilled me more than to hop into Crow (Bakasana) and pike into handstand, I thought everyone wanted to join my arm balance party.
In designing classes for myself instead of the students, I was alienating them.
But they’ll get bored, I rationalized.
In thinking that, I was doing myself, the students, and yoga in general a gigantic disservice by forgetting how layered yoga is. You can spend all day meditating on the breath and still find there’s more to learn.
Inhale, exhale, for 24 hours and you’ve just barely scratched the surface.
Now I plan my classes around the time of day I’m teaching, the season, and how I can design something that opens hearts and helps people feel vibrant.
I also go into it knowing that I may throw my plans out the window completely depending on who shows up to the mat.
2. I closed my eyes and hid in dark corners.
My whole life, I’ve struggled with being seen and the door that would open to being judged. The thing about yoga is, the greatest lessons come from staring your scariest demons straight in the eye.
In an effort to not be seen, I hid in corners and closed my eyes while leading the class.
Not the best thing to do when you’re trying to co-create a safe energetic space while encouraging others to become more open. Hypocritical even. (In the name of self kindness, I must say that it was all part of my journey and was perfect for where I was at the time. If I came into life knowing all the lessons already, I’d be super bored by now.)
After sweating and crying on the mat for several years, I found the strength to be seen. Or to learn how to be seen, anyway; it is a process, after all.
Now I seek loving support from friends and family who I trust enough to see me. I’ve defined true intimacy as allowing those close to me to see and know me as I really am. Not as I want them to see me—but as I really am.
Since being seen is a big one for me, I seek it out in others, research it, and keep myself honest. Now if I find myself hiding in dark corners, I gently bring myself back into the light.
3. I took things way too personally.
Sensitive, empathic soul that I am, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully distinguish my stuff from what isn’t mine. Social beings that we are, that kind of heart connection can actually serve us very well. There’s a name for people who are completely disconnected from the feelings of others: sociopaths.
It isn’t fair to me or anyone else to hold onto something that isn’t mine.
A mentor put it so beautifully: Holding on to something that isn’t mine means never having an opportunity to resolve it.
Now I do the best I can for the person in front of me. Then I let it go.
The ego is dying to attach to students’ reactions in one way or another. If a student has an epiphany, the ego wants to take all the credit for it.
If a student hates the class or becomes triggered to the point that they leave, the ego wants to turn the blame inward, using any and all personal insecurities as evidence that it’s correct.
Both attachments get in the way of the pure, unadulterated flow of a group of people getting together to share space and their passion for yoga, their passion for life, and their passion for passion!
4. I tried to be every thing for everybody.
Having long ago self-diagnosed with the Disease to Please, I tied myself in knots emotionally (and sometimes literally in asana, but that part was fun) to make sure that everyone had the most fantastic experience possible.
In doing so, I all but drained my personal supply of prana which, incidentally, is the very ingredient that makes for the most meaningful classes.
Every person is unique. The preferred pose variation of one is the absolute nightmare for another. The horror pose of one student is another’s favorite.
There is absolutely no way to cater to everyone’s wishes at exactly the same time and you will not be rewarded by trying to do so.
Now I focus my damndest on being myself and being okay if that doesn’t resonate with everyone. I like teaching with music and it’s okay if students opt out of my classes because they prefer the quieter music of their own breath.
An interesting side effect of this new way of teaching is that my classes began to grow and become more consistent, as well as becoming way more fun.
5. I lost faith in myself as a yoga teacher.
It’s hard to admit to myself, let alone publish for others to read, that there were times I lost faith in myself.
Self-belief just goes so deep; it’s my core, my center of gravity. With self-belief, external circumstances don’t matter because in your heart you know you’ll be okay.
Without a center of gravity, a boat tips over. Without a center of gravity, we implode and lose ourselves.
Now I check in with myself and practice radical self-kindness. As a beginning yoga student, I looked to the teacher for guidance. As a beginning yoga teacher, I looked to the students. As I continue to grow and test my comfort levels, I look to the present moment.
That’s not to say that students don’t inspire me—they 100% do.
I plan my classes, sure, but I do so with the intention that for the hour or more we’re together, we’re co-creating. It’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s about us, bravely showing up together and doing something that we couldn’t have done without each other.
Just as beginning and advanced students are the easiest to teach because they humbly accept that they don’t know anything, I endeavor to stay respectful on my journey as a teacher. As I carry on down this path, these five lessons still find me along the way and I will greet them with self-kindness and love.
I’m almost, almost, looking forward to learning what the next five mistakes will be.