As the final om reverberates in the room, the only thought going through your head is, That was the worst class I ever taught. The students start rolling up their mats and putting away props and your heart is sinking as you bravely smile and see them out the door.
Now, alone in the studio with only your frustration and a floor duster, you think: Last week’s class flowed well, and this one belly-flopped. Where did it go wrong? And why does it feel so awful? You begin to replay the entire class in your head.
Yoga teachers often face this kind of self-doubt.
What you do next matters.
I used to ruminate for days after a class that went off the rails. I would question whether teaching yoga was right for me, whether it was truly my dharma, whether I had misunderstood the signs—wait…did I even see any signs? I’d stay up late to read everything I could get my hands on in an effort to uncover what I could have done differently and rehash my sequence over and over again. Eventually, my self-analysis would pass, but it took an emotional toll on me.
Something had to change. What evolved is this: a five-step solution based on my own experience and exercises that have resonated with me in recent years.
Try the following simple contemplative sequence after any class, whether you were happy with it or not. This will only take 10 minutes and it may save you a lot of mental grief and sleep loss.
First, acknowledge and accept that your class was probably not as awful as you think it was. Like an imaginary monster under your childhood bed, it’s more horrible in your mind than in reality. (But let’s say, for the point of this reflective time, that it was not one of your best teaching moments.)
First, acknowledge and accept that your class was probably not as awful as you think it was.
Second, grab a notebook and a pen. Open the notebook so that you have two blank pages in front of you. You are going to write two lists. (Remember, this exercise is meant to be done in 10 minutes or less, so don’t agonize over the process—go with your first thoughts, as it is a kind of discipline that accentuates your creativity, values your time, and has the benefit of building self-worth.)
Third, on one page write down at least five things that you felt you did really well in the class. This is the hard part—writing positive things about ourselves when we feel crappy. You can start with something as simple as the fact that you began class on time. Now go deeper: Did you encourage a student during class? Make eye contact? Walk around the room? Give a student a prop when needed? These actions all made a difference to someone’s experience of yoga. You saw them, cared, and acted. Try not to underestimate the value of the attention you give out in class. Write it down.
Fourth, on the opposite page write down five things you would like to improve in your next class. Learning a student’s name or taking a breath before you center the classroom are both expansive and doable future actions. When you make this list try to focus on where you’re at in your evolution as a teacher, as your own work in progress. We all start out with training wheels when we learn to ride a bike. We discover our balance as they come off and most of us hit bumps and wobble in the process.
Fifth, take a breath, soften your eyes, and read your lists. Acknowledge everything you did well during the class. Now, with that awareness, look at the other list with compassion. Are there any future actions you can work with? Choose one and explore it in your next class.
On a final note: Treat yourself with the same kindness and consideration that you would a student struggling with a pose. Take a moment to appreciate all of the good things you have brought to the class and give yourself a break—you are doing better than you think you are.