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On Being Different-y

The very first class I taught in my now hometown of Boulder, I was really worried about fitting in with the local style. I did my initial 200-hour training at CorePower Yoga in Chicago, but the CorePower style in Boulder was noticeably different.

This is a yoga town, there’s no question about it. Many of the students have gone through trainings and even if they haven’t, they know a great deal about their practice. Many of them have been practicing longer than me. This is intimidating.

I taught my first class in Boulder and apologized for having a style that they weren’t used to. I’ll change! I’ll be whatever you want me to be! Just come to class! But after that first class, one of my students told me not to change. She said it was refreshing to have something different in a world where we—mostly unintentionally—regurgitate words, phrases and sequences that we’ve heard in class before.

All it took was permission from one student to continue to be me. If it weren’t for her, I think I would still be struggling with my voice and it wouldn’t have come across as real, as authentic.

differentySure, some of my jokes don’t land. Sure, sometimes I’m teaching after working eight plus hours. Sometimes I just don’t feel like teaching. Sometimes my words don’t connect to my brain. But no matter what, my students see me for me.

I’ve been to those inauthentic classes. It feels like the instructor is reading a script, playing the part of “Yoga Instructor #247.” It’s never a great class. There’s something missing, there’s a lack of some human connection that I crave. Had I tried to be that instructor that I thought I should have been versus the instructor that I am, my students would have felt the same and they probably would have been disappointed.

The idea of authenticity is tricky. How do we know we’re being authentic? How do we know what kind of instructors we are when we’re just starting to find our voices? How can we tell if our students pick up our authenticity or the lack thereof? I’m not an expert on this idea, but this is what I have found works and what my students respond to. You may be able to use these as guidelines as you find your own voice. But only use it as a guide. Be different-y.

On being authentic:

  1. Say what comes into your head when you teach. Sometimes that means a joke that only I think is funny, or a story someone might relate to or a pose that I can feel is right even if I hadn’t planned on teaching it.
  2. Show your bruises. Obviously no one is perfect. Even that instructor that changed his name to sound more yogi after his trip to India has some baggage. Especially that guy. If you want to teach a pose that isn’t Yoga-Journal-cover perfect, let your students know you’re still working on it. If hip openers make you cry, chances are they make one of your students cry as well.
  3. Relate to your students honestly. Don’t use your class as your therapist, but let your students know that you’ve been where they are. Chances are you’ve worked out a lot of your crap through your practice, and that’s what a lot of them are doing as well.
  4. Notice your phrases and words versus the phrases and words of others. When I take a class, I write down what I liked and what I didn’t particularly like about that class. It’s a good reference point for me to get inspiration and notice if I’m repeating something that I liked in someone else’s vocabulary.

How do you stay different-y?

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