A yoga teacher reminisces about her social service days
By Shana Sturtz
Some people say working in social services is a thankless job, but, having done both, I think being a yoga teacher is actually less gratifying. I worked in social services for many years before I became a yoga teacher, and perhaps my clients didn’t always express the utmost gratitude, but hell, at least there was agency recognition, awards for strong programs, and the personal reward of (sometimes) strengthening families. Not to mention, I had a good boss who recognized my abilities and helped me grow.
In yoga, about the strongest feedback I have gotten from a mentor is, “You should have said exhale instead of inhale.” When you teach yoga, you expose a personal side of yourself. Teaching yoga is your personal art form. What you say and the sequences you choose are an expression of you as a teacher. Anyone who says you shouldn’t give a shit what others think of your class may not realize how personal it is. It’s like saying “Don’t give a shit what anyone thinks of you,” and we all know that, to varying degrees, most people actually do. (Disclaimer: I am referring to yoga asana in this article, and not making a commentary on teaching meditation or any of the other limbs of yoga.)
After teaching a class, many students are kind enough to give me a sweaty “Thank you” or say how good they feel, even though I could have sworn they were pissed the whole time. Some students recognize something specific about the class, which I love, and others will leave class saying nothing, ever. So yes, it feels good to be recognized when you make others feel good, but doing this job, I still feel on empty much of the time.
I have tossed around this discussion with many of my yoga teacher friends, lamenting about the emptiness, and apart from that, my struggle of wanting to gauge the experience or depth of the class. Usually I get a hodgepodge answer about how the rewards need to come from within, and so on. Basically, I need to change and not give a flying fuck about what the student thinks, and just continue to teach from my heart, and then I will be at peace. To a certain extent I agree, but to another extent, teaching yoga makes me vulnerable. I want to know what people feel. Maybe from my social service days, I am longing to make a difference.
Yoga teachers are on stage, displaying our art, our abilities and our knowledge, just like any other teacher.
When people are indifferent or negative, it feels like they are rejecting a part of me. Oh, but right, I am a yoga teacher and I’m not supposed to get caught up in rejection. Who the hell doesn’t care about rejection? I am not so possessed with inner confidence not to care, not to notice, and not to want to know what my students think of their experience in class, and how I could make it better.
On the other hand, I am well aware that the yoga experience is personal and can be affected by all the life variables and baggage we each bring to class as students. If I make it to class when I am in an awful mood, my experience will be greatly altered, and I can only hope that yoga will soften some of the awfulness. So on those days, I don’t say much either, because I realize it’s my own shit going on.
In my social services days, I saw the results of helping people survive and meet basic needs, and so in comparison, teaching yoga feels a little vapid. Helping someone stay out of jail or find employment or whatever has its own rewards that have nothing to do with the client appreciating the work you’ve done. I left the social service world behind because I was burnt out, stressed and discouraged by many of my clients. I know the reality. Regardless, visible changes were happening with clients in either direction and it was exciting to see progress when it happened.
I can always see the lens to the past more clearly than the present.
It’s easy to romanticize something — even if it is social services, something no one has ever been accused of romanticizing before. One cannot imagine how I could be reminiscing about the social service days, because I am now a disgruntled yoga teacher. This must be a first.
All I know is that when I worked those service jobs, I may have been discouraged, but I had a boss to confide in, a system to support me, and the occasional success story to provide motivation. Teaching yoga, I don’t really have any of those things. Instead, I have a practice that makes a tangible difference in a lot of peoples’ lives, but to me often seems duplicitous and self important. Yoga and the yoga world have a complex, believing they are more important than they are, just as I believe the problems in my head are more important than they are. As a reminder to the yoga world, but mainly to me, there’s a big fucking world out there… now go find a career.
About Shana Sturtz
Shana Sturtz is a certified yoga teacher and survivor of the exploding Portland, Oregon yoga scene. She currently lives in Guadalajara, Mexico with her husband, Tom. She continues to teach yoga and tutors in English. She has practiced yoga for 15 years, and yes, she is older than most yoga teachers. She is currently looking for more ways to occupy her time in this new land where she hasn’t quite grasped the language, and she is too scared to drive. Coming from Portland, you only learn to ride a bike. While no longer living in Portland (where a new yoga studio opens every hour) she is forced to practice her yoga within the comforts of her home, often with her cat looking on admiringly.