Hello, Yoga Teacher!
About a week after Christmas 2018, I was anonymously walking down the potato chip aisle of the convenience store across the interstate from my house, when a familiar voice tapped me on the shoulder. “Hello, yoga teacher,” said my late night friend, one of the store clerks, a young Indian man who often marvels at what I am willing to put in my body and how little impact it seems to have on my well-being.
There are many ways to get to know strangers. One is by having late night conversations about how poor food choices conflict with the idea of yoga teacher training, one of the main focuses being non-violence against yourself and the world around you.
What my friend did not know was that I wasn’t in training any longer–I was a fully certified instructor, so “Yoga Teacher” was less a nickname and more a fact. It was a little ironic given I was secretively buying Ruffles cheese potato chips and Vienna sausages. And it sort of jolted me awake a bit–it’s simply not always easy to walk the walk. For me or anyone else, about anything.
And that’s why, at least in yoga world, you don’t go pick up the formula to enlightenment (or even eradicate midnight binge eating habits, though it can and that happens with lots of habits), we have to practice diligently and apply heat and discipline to work through the things that hold us back. I’m told.
Despite the fact that my friend greeted me as “Yoga Teacher” and it was true (certificate below), I had yet to teach my first class and besides, teaching wasn’t my goal when I began training. I’ve been an almost daily student of yoga for nearly five years and formal training was just something I considered part of being a professional student–not as a means to teach others how to follow their breath or protect their knees (which are hinge joints, yes, they are).
Whatever I thought about teaching, that changed on December 30, 2018, when, after the regular Saturday morning yoga class I learned that nobody was scheduled to teach on New Year’s Eve at Nirvana, which is my neighborhood studio in Grant Park.
My long-time yoga buddy, Ute, a die-hard student and a linguistics professor, said, “Why don’t you teach, Sibley?”
“Yeah, Sibley, why don’t you teach a class on New Year’s Eve? Ask Leigh Anne,” our teacher, Amanda McGee, encouraged us. Leigh Anne Neal’s permission would be key, given she is the owner of Nirvana Yoga. That is indeed her signature at the bottom of my certificate.
Amanda’s husband, Lucas, chimed in, “Or, you could just not come to Nirvana for a day.”
Ute and I agreed that not coming to Nirvana if at all we could would really only be preferable if we were traveling. New Year’s Eve is one of those mile marker days that you need to go to yoga, to stretch out your body and set your intention for the coming year. What is it that Leigh Anne always says? If you want to know your future, look at what you are doing in the present moment.
Ute and I could have both gone home to do individual practices but it really isn’t the same as the energy you get when you’re holding space with 12 other people who have made a conscious decision to begin the year by doing something good for themselves.
Briefly, here’s how it all went down. Leigh Anne didn’t respond to my request to teach until Sunday morning, at which point I called my yoga buddy Jenn Hardy, who has been a certified teacher for over a year now, and asked her to come over and HELP ME.
I needed help with everything–music for class, timing the meditation and the postures, what props we would need, the plan for lighting the candles. Jenn didn’t hesitate and spent six hours with me that very afternoon helping me put together my first class and practice it, and, in so doing, helped build my confidence. Jenn’s daughter, Skylar, contributed through her mastery of patience not to mention her cheerful sweet presence. (Skylar, in the background in pink below, comes prepared for sometimes long yoga days with her mother, including homework and games on her iphone.)
I arrived at the studio two hours before my first class was to begin, though only 30 minutes is required. I moved through the space, cleaning out stale energy from the corners of the ceiling with sage smoke, set the tea kettle on, danced, practiced and took a few selfies as a demonstration of my new found yoga teacher confidence.
Twelve people turned out, all grateful to be practicing together, all very kind and accepting to be taught by a brand-new-out-of-the-package yoga instructor. Jenn, of course, came, too, and handled all of the administrative stuff like opening the studio and signing people in. For my part, I found myself for the first time standing at the door, greeting each student as a bonafide teacher. Most of them were strangers. It just worked out that way.
The group intention I offered for the New Year was gratitude. I was and remain grateful for my teachers, for my yoga community, and for my friends, including the gentleman across the highway who still knows me by only my midnight name: Yoga Teacher.