The Student-Teacher Balance
I think I speak for most yoga teachers when I say we are constantly working to cultivate the confidence to share what we know while also remaining aware of how much we have to learn. I'm sure there are many teachers who struggle to tame their ego, but I think the bigger problem is those who fail to see their worth.
Here’s how I like to think about it.
It’s healthy to have a lingering voice that says, “I could be mistaken.” We can’t honestly or safely guide a student if we don’t acknowledge the limits of our own understanding. Doubting ourselves, to a point, is a sign of wisdom. But, if we let that voice get too loud, we fail to hear the one that says, “I have something meaningful to offer.” Believing in your worth is also a sign of wisdom. These voices should work together to create a healthy balance. Neither serves the greater good without the other.
Here is my example. I’ve been practicing and studying Ashtanga yoga for the good part of seven years. I’ve attended workshops and teacher trainings. I’ve dutifully tended to my own practice and have matured through injuries, setbacks, pregnancies, and more. That’s a long time and a lot of energy devoted to this method! Seven years and this much work is enough to get a graduate degree in most disciplines. That’s nothing to scoff at and certainly means I’ve accumulated some important wisdom and have plenty to offer new students. When I think of it this way, I do feel worthy of teaching what I know of this practice. I feel confident that I’m speaking from a place of experience and authority. I believe this is a fully valid perspective. But, to be balanced, I have to check in with that more irresolute voice.
That voice says that a student fresh from graduate school is only at the beginning of their career. It would be foolish for someone just out of college to think they were truly a master in their field. In this view, seven years is a blink of an eye. Compared to the lifetime of devoted study of someone like Pattabhi Jois or B.K.S. Iyengar, my “nothing to scoff at” practice looks like peanuts. While I may know what I know quite well, there is an entire ocean of knowledge out there and I’ve only seen one beach. Maybe two. I must keep exploring and seeking guidance from those further along the path. My studentship must never be eclipsed by my teaching. This is also a valid perspective, and the one that often wins the battle for my headspace. But, I have to remember that it truly is lacking truth without the previous thoughts.
To feel comfortable in our role as teacher, we have to find a way to reconcile the two perspectives. We have to believe that being an accomplished practitioner with wisdom to share, and being a humble student with much to learn, are not mutually exclusive. We can and should be both. There is absolutely nothing wrong with proudly owning your authority as long as you acknowledge your shortcomings and continuously seek greater understanding. In my experience, the most effective and inspiring teachers trust the practice and trust themselves. As long as we harbor a healthy dose of humility, we serve no one when we sell ourselves short.
“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” - Mariann Williamson
You see, if your own peace of mind isn’t enough reason to believe in yourself, remember that your students are watching and feeding from your energy. Are you sending the signals that you're a safe, trustworthy place for them to grow their practice? My sweet, fellow teachers, be humble and self-aware, but trust in your wisdom and your value as a guide. It’s ok for you to shine and help illuminate the path for others. Keep practicing. Keep digging. Never grow complacent. But also never succumb to feelings of inadequacy. Your students, as well as your own practice, will benefit.
Humbly yet proudly,