Being Present as a Yoga Teacher, by Alice Toyonaga
For a yoga teacher, there can be a certain pressure to please all students coming to class, to have a daily practice that includes a series of arm balancing postures and inversions done perfectly, and to be positive, cheerful and full of light at all times. As a student, similar pressures can apply: wanting to perfect each posture, doing things faster, deeper, longer, better, leaving classes blissed out all the time, and always reaching for what’s next. Unfortunately, I can’t give you tips and tricks to help you achieve any of those things. But I will share with you how I let go of some of these pressures, pressures that we, in fact, put on ourselves, in order to find my current voice and truth on my yoga path.
I’ve been practicing yoga with an asana practice for eight years and have been teaching for three. In this time, my practice has evolved as I have evolved. I went from practicing strictly for the sweat and workout I was getting in the hot room, to practicing to keep me less injured in my sport. It then morphed into a practice to ground me, to make me breathe deeper, then to a practice that cracked my heart open. Through and after teacher training, it transformed into a practice of connecting with community, a practice of kindness, patience and compassion towards myself and others, and a practice of letting go.
But that practice of letting go took a while to take a firm hold, especially because Ego had its elbows out, wanting to be part of the action. For a while after I started teaching, I was hard on myself about needing to find the time daily to work on advanced postures that I couldn’t do because I didn’t want to feel like a sham of a yoga teacher. I wanted so deeply for those taking my classes to like my classes, and I pushed aside dark or difficult moments I was experiencing when I would teach, because, you leave your baggage at the door, right? During this time, I neglected my meditation practice. I was on the search for something bigger. I taught what I thought people wanted, not what people needed. I sounded like myself but I wasn’t myself, and it was exhausting.
The shifts in my teaching happened in my own yoga practice. My practice has evolved tremendously over the last few years as I began focusing on what I need, not what I want or think I need. I found that the power and challenge of my practice was coming from simplicity. From really being present and mindful. From having an unshakable trust of myself.
And so I translated that into how I taught as well. I let go of how I thought things were supposed to be and in turn, I got to me. My truth. As Ego stepped aside, it allowed me to see that I don’t have to charm other teachers or those who come to practice my classes with what I can do, or how I do it. I just have to have integrity. Be me. Be willing to learn constantly. And it is something that I want to impart on others when I teach – that being in their own practice, with their own potential, in their own bodies, instead of pushing and reaching, is what’s “perfect”.
Alice Toyonaga (ChatterRunGirl) is a runner, triathlete and yoga instructor who excels in making yoga accessible for runners and other endurance athletes. Her classes and workshops, geared specifically to runners and triathletes, focus on intelligent sequencing and alignment built around breathwork, joint stability, joint mobility, and mental endurance. She has dedicated herself to bridging the gap between the road and the mat, keeping athletes in their runners for years to come.
To stay up to date on Alice’s classes and athletes’ workshops, and her own journey as an athlete, visit www.chatterrungirl.com.