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  • Writer's pictureA. N. Onymous

Teacher confessional

I'm a yoga teacher and these are the five things assumptions I wish people wouldn't make about me.

A photograph of the back of a woman. She's wearing a backless dress and is seated with her back to the edge of a table. A vase with a tall, yellow flower is next to her and arches over her shoulder.

Placed in the pulpit at the helm of class, it's hard not to gaze upon your yoga teacher as an immaculate source of love and light.

As teachers, we get this.

As a student, you show up at class for escapism form an embittered world that serves up a smorgasbord of reasons to repent every single day.

You want to absorb lightness from a teacher irradiate with good.

You want to immerse yourself in an a purifying pool of positivity and uplifting vibrations before tunnelling back through the abyss of stress that awaits you on the other side of class.

But we travel down that same tunnel too.

After class, we bravely step out of the sacred spaces and temporary cathedrals we cocoon you in, ready to do battle with a world that doesn't let up. Yes, teachers are usually devout yogis with many years of devotional practice under our belts and that, of course, alters ones perception of the world and your composure within it.

But, hey, there are some things we simply can't out yoga - some things just get under your skin. We aren't angels. We aren't pristine. We just do our best to accept things as they come and go but, make no mistake, even we have our crosses to bear and demons to face.

We float around on a cloud all day

I wanted to kick-off with my favourite assumption - that yoga teachers are the epitome of ataraxic and float around all day without a care in the world.

Oh my goodness, no! I wish this assumption was true, I truly do.

Life happens and we are human - it would be impossible (and concerning) if absolutely nothing bothered us. Personally, I get frustrated by the media and nothing angers me more than technology. Both sources of anguish are ironic as I am an online journalist. But perhaps that's why I get het-up: I depend on these things.

So, if they fail me (like technology often does), or present something that I find emotionally challenging (arresting news headline, anyone?), I become mildly perturbed.

The moral of this assumption is, sure, yoga teachers get irritated and annoyed, but we've probably also trained our minds to catch ourselves in these moments, and take a step back to look at what the problem actually is.

There's usually a deeper meaning behind our irritations and a little philosophical introspection satisfies any air of irrationality and mollifies our mood.

But remember, we weren't always programmed this way. And that's probably why ventured on our yogic paths in the first place - because we had crap we needed to deal with.

Criticism doesn't bother us

An agony felt by teachers across the world, we feel pain from criticism just like everyone else.

People of all vocations will agree that constructive criticism is par for the course in the working world but malevolent feedback is painful whatever your profession.

I find that yoga teachers, much like creative professionals, are subjected to misappropriated criticism more than other professionals because what we teach is so subjective. Often, students come to a class expecting it to conform to the idea of yoga, or the formula of physicality, they originally connected with. And they expect you to be just like the teacher they originally formed a bond with. In psychological terms, this is transference - and it can happen in both a positive light and a negative one.

Feelings attached to a situation or person are literally transferred to a new environment. Equally as someone might have been enamoured by their previous teacher, they might have received a bad yoga experience and they bring that along with them.

Usually, this results in negative feedback or tarnishing online reviews that only serve to hurt the teacher - who actually hasn't done anything wrong.

The other aspect of yoga that elicits ill-intended criticism? It's deeply personal. Yoga means something different to everyone - and it flows intimately through us. Teachers might not realise this when they're fresh out to pasture, but seasoned experience teaches us to recognise and accept this as graciously as we do most other things in life.

We're all super skinny vegans

This is an oldie but a goodie. As with most things in this world, we've assigned an archetype from where stereotype derives. And that archetype evolves and diversifies along with culture and perceptions of ideals and, to an extent, what we think we need to see.

Gym culture is pervasive and yoga culture is rapidly becoming a sub-trend to that. Legions of reportedly "self-confessed" celebrity yoga junkies clad in outpriced spiritual attire or seeking luxe aesthetic goals in haute athleisure has transformed perceptions of yoga teachers.

Modern ideals and a bevvy of apocryphal You Tube accounts has seen a drastic transformation of yoga teachers from harem-pant wearing hippies, to green-juice sipping sylphs. Thickening the plot, there's now a misconception that yoga teachers (and practitioners) exist on fresh air (probably ingested while atop that floating cloud...) with the odd raw veggie platter thrown in for good measure.

No, no, and no. I unashamedly indulge in Michelin star restaurants on a regular basis and have a good supply of chef-prepared ready meals in my freezer - because who can be bothered every single night? As an Italian descendent, I love pizza, arancini, and plenty of gelato. Yes, it might be on the odd occasion rather than everyday. It might also be plant-based over animal-based, but it still has a place in my diet. And all my teaching contemporaries do the same.

We all eat in a way that is true to ourselves and serves us - literally nourishing our souls. Depending on our methods of practice, what we put on our plates might also adhere to the principle of ahimsa - non-harming. Personally, I'm plant-based 80-90% of the time, with 10-20% allowing for other vegetarian foods (no meat passes these lips).

I also try not to label myself under a particular dietary orientation. I find it causes too much division and has become a branch we all climb in the struggle for superiority and status.

Yoga provides excellent health principles to live by and achieve optimisation, but it's not a guaranteed prescription for maintaining a super-light body weight. We're all unique and born with different compositions and constitutions. Our bodies are beautiful whatever their shape or size - they're living miracles! Just because someone does a lot of yoga asana doesn't mean they will be stick thin. Rather than focusing on how we think someone should look, let's celebrate their willingness to sacrifice their time, physical energy and emotional capacity to serving others.

Yoga's easy and we can do everything

This old chestnut.

In 25 years of practicing, I've done a [successful] Crow no more than five times. And that was possibly only holding for one inhale. I have weak wrists, which means arm balances are seriously problematic for me. I also have an exaggerated curve in my lumbar spine, so handstands are equally as difficult - flattening out the back is key to holding a handstand. But, thanks to my inherited crazy flexibility (my mother was a ballerina), I can drop into Monkey pose or nestle into King Pigeon quite happily.

My balancing abilities are also infamous - I once stood in Tree for 30 minutes on one leg. Even though these things are easy for me now, it doesn't mean they always have been. Any yoga teacher will tell you the same. I've traversed along a tumultuous path to get here and it by no means suggests I can still do "everything". Yoga is constantly evolving as we find new ways to artistically express ourselves. Transitions now hold equal importance as asana themselves - a lot of which are challenging and require just as much practice.

Remember, yoga is an exploration of the body and all bodies are built differently. Our early experiences as children determine how our body uncoils and how it will perform, bend and contort later in life.

Dealing with deprivation is part of the job description

Much like how ideologies are misattributed to yoga teachers, so is often incorrectly thought about how we live. I've often been told I don't look like a yoga teacher. I can shirk this off quite easily. But when I'm told I don't seem like a yoga teacher, it stops me in my tracks.

Antiquated stereotypes influence us to think of yoga teachers in the same murky light as cult leaders - collective living in compounds and communes, with mismatched textiles and found furniture; drenched in dreamcatchers and coated with a twinkling cloak of crystalline refraction.

Most teachers live in a built property - let's get that straight! Every teacher I know owns their own home, has a marriage, and a couple of kids. They enjoy family holidays, eating nice food (off plates) and going shopping for skincare and clothes - just like regular civilians.

As the perception of what a teacher should look like is changing, I'm relived to say that this assumption is rapidly dwindling. Yes, yoga teaches us not to be covetous and attach ourselves to material things.

With the shifting perception of teachers, we run the risk of nay-sayers challenging us with the fact we live "normally". Modern living seems to defy traditional philosophies of yoga and eluding material attachment.

But, we live in a world where these things exist and should enjoy them consciously and responsibly.

Let's roll up stereotypes and assumptions along with our yoga mats and lay them to rest once and for all.

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