The First Time

This post originally appeared as part of a series of blogs for Yoga Tree and Pete Guinosso

Three weeks after graduating from Lighting the Path Yoga Teacher Training, I found myself preparing to teach my first yoga class as a sub. I had taught co-workers, friends, and family many times. I had experience teaching to strangers who attended our public classes during teacher training.

But this was different. I was now a certified teacher, filling in for another teacher, at a regular class. And I was getting paid to do it. 

I arrived over 30 minutes early for the Sunday morning class – a hedge against traffic and nerves. I walked into the room (a large, multipurpose space at a rec center), and immediately wished that I had worn Ugg boots, gloves, and a wool hat. The temperature on the wall read 52 degrees.

My mind flashed briefly to the cozy and warm Yoga Tree Telegraph studio where I trained for this moment, and my heart ached to have my fellow trainees with me.  

I dug into my bag for a pair of socks, and put them on. I could hear Pete’s voice in my head:

You won’t always have a heated room. So you need to know how to get your students to build heat quickly.

I mentally doubled the number of abs and sun salutations that I had anticipated teaching.

It was the first of many I told you so moments that would occur during that first class, as if the universe was literally running a Pete said loop of everything that Pete prepared us for throughout training.

The regular students that the usual teacher raved about were noticeably absent. An elderly woman who had never done yoga chose that morning to start. My planned apex pose was too advanced for all but one student in the back of class, the same student that I worried would be bored throughout the entire 90 minutes.

Although I had planned and practiced the sequence several times (including early that same morning), I called a half dozen audibles on poses. I stopped the class for unplanned demos when I realized that the newer students needed more instruction.

I had made a point to inquire about injuries and pregnancies in the beginning of class, yet one of the students decided to tell me mid-assist in a twist that she had recently had a spinal fusion. Does that matter? She asked.

(Note to readers: It does matter.)

When I finished teaching, I felt like I had summited Mount Everest in one day.

But I had done it.

After we practiced teaching in class during training, Pete’s first question to us would always be: What kind of class did you give your students?

While the class had not gone exactly as I planned, I knew deep down that it had been a good class. I was prepared. I was competent. I handled the challenges like I had practiced during training.

I was a teacher.

Yoga is not easy. It requires discipline, heart, and perhaps most importantly, consistent practice. We don’t come to our mat the same way twice. We bring our injured muscles, our broken hearts, and our tired minds. We down dog our joy, laughter, and commitment.

Teaching yoga is no different.

When I stepped onto my mat that March morning, and asked my students to close their eyes, I realized as we took those first few breaths together that I was, in many ways, looking in a mirror.

I was staring at seven souls who rolled out their mats to practice yoga.

They didn’t come for perfect. And I didn’t come to be perfect.

Being a teacher is more about learning from mistakes than it is about demonstrating flawless asanas.

I am still in the early days of my teaching journey. Yet almost six months after graduation, I am delightfully comfortable as I make the walk to the front of the room to start my classes. If I make a mistake, I move on. I am most concerned about the space I am holding for the individuals who show up. I want them to feel the strength in that space. I want them to keep coming.

There are times when I can still hear Pete’s voice while I teach, as a circumstance presents a gentle nudge and reminder of training. But most days now I simply hear my own voice, calmer than I ever imagined it would be – asking people again and again to breathe.

To be themselves.

To practice.