my biggest yoga teaching fear

by haywardhelen


Since starting to teach yoga, eleven weeks ago, my deepest fear has been this. I would arrive at the studio, put in the door code, switch on some music, light a candle, get out the mats, block and straps from the cupboard. And then nothing. No-one would come to class. I would be alone in the studio.


Two days ago, this nearly happened. Minutes after my 6.30pm class was due to start, I was alone in the studio. But then, thankfully, Sally and her gymnast daughter slipped in late. Sally usually comes to my Friday lunch-time class, not my Thursday evening class, so I was surprised – and relieved – to see her. And yet despite this relief, for the first ten minutes of class my brain didn’t work properly. I stuck to my sequence. I didn’t give the wrong cues. Still, my mind was all over the place. Questions kept coming at me, like an automatic ball machine on a tennis court. ‘Where were my regulars? Why hadn’t they let me know they weren’t coming?’ And then, the question driving all the others. ‘Surely this was confirmation that I was a bad yoga teacher?’


Thankfully, after the first ten minutes, I snapped out of my funk and focused on teaching the sequence I’d prepared. Sally and her daughter had come for a yoga class, I reminded myself, not to form the chorus in their teacher’s bad dream.


Yesterday morning I had just enough time to do some work before taking my dog to the beach so that he’d flop on the backseat of the car while I was teaching my lunchtime class. Arranging my morning to give Digger a run on the beach is inconvenient. Yet I love being by the sea when I’m there. I love the way it takes me away from everything that’s happening on land, and invites chats with other dog owners. Which is why I always leave the beach with a thank you to Digger for making me take him.


When I got to the studio, after being at the beach, there was only just enough time to switch on the light, pull out my notes, roll out three mats, light a candle and turn on some music. Perhaps this is why it wasn’t until a few minutes after 1pm that I looked at my watch. Only then did it hit me. No-one was there. I was alone. I waited to hear the click of the gate, but there was quiet. Did that mean no-one was coming?


Perhaps because I’d rehearsed this moment, so many times, panic didn’t come. Instead I sat cross legged on my mat and breathed. Then I had a distinct thought. I wasn’t completely alone in the studio. I was someone. And given the ache in my lower back, perhaps from the stress the night before, I needed to do some yoga. I could, if I wanted, do yoga all by myself.


Uncrossing my legs, I took a deep breath and stood at the top of my mat, as if it was the most usual thing in the world to start a class without any students. First, I did two roll-downs. Then I stepped back into plank, holding for a breath deep into my belly and, on an exhale, lowering into sphinx and up again into downdog.


At which point Ruth entered the studio, wearing her bike helmet and apologising for being late. Ruth is quiet, or at least quieter than my other students. Rather than feeling embarrassed to be doing yoga alone, I felt glad to be able to give Ruth a one-to-one, and to get to know her better outside the group. Except that then, just as Ruth and I were getting the hang of doing yoga together, Dee arrived and unrolled her mat. Without so much as a roll down, she joined in our sequence. ‘I just felt’, she said, by way of explanation, ‘that I really needed half an hour of me-time’.


I didn’t feel surprised when Dee arrived twenty minutes late for class. Because by that point I knew that I didn’t know what would happen next, apart from teaching the yoga sequence that I’d prepared earlier in the week, when teaching to an empty studio was still my big yoga teaching fear.


At the end of class, after I mentioned a break over Christmas and New Year, Sally and Ruth thanked me. ‘I feel that I’ve found your class at just the right moment’, said Sally, clicking the council gate shut behind her. ‘I’m so glad’, I said, as I headed for my car, where my dog was peering over the backseat.


Assuming I keep on teaching yoga, there will probably be more occasions on which I set up the studio and no-one comes to class. Perhaps my fear will keep on being realised until I move on from it, until I don’t need it anymore. Until, that is, I feel confident that I’m not a bad teacher.


Yesterday, when I practiced yoga in the empty studio, I was proud of myself for not losing it. My biggest yoga teaching fear wasn’t, it turned out, the horrible experience that my fantasy had told me it would be. My world didn’t cave in. Besides, there seemed no point being embarrassed when there was no-one there to feel embarrassed in front of. Instead, after a small wobble, I got on with my yoga sequence, as if I myself was someone worth teaching.