More Than Just A Yoga Teacher By Helen Lee
Recently I’ve been struggling with the role of the yoga teacher. The questions I have, I think deal more in ethics and morals, integrity and dignity and less to do with American or Indian, corporate yoga or enlightenment. In search for some answers, I came across this passage:
"In a lecture I once said, ‘I just want to punch somebody.’ During the Q&A, someone raised their hand and said ‘You know, the need to punch someone does not feel very wholehearted to me. And you are my wholehearted icon.’
I jumped right in. ‘I shouldn’t be your wholehearted icon. Wholeheartedness is something I’m striving for, but don’t make me your role model. I’m on the journey with you trying to get there, but I don’t have it mastered.’ Any assumption of perfection is an empathic miss.
Empathy is a hard skill to learn because mastery requires practice, and practice means you’ll screw it up big-time more than once. But that’s how practice works.
In many of our empathy workshops, we ask the participants to sign a poster that says:
I agree to practice empathy, screw it up , circle back, clean it up, and try again."
(Brené Brown, Dare to Lead 157)
I have been teaching yoga for 11 years, something I’m very proud of. And being proud of something I do, has taken me a long time to say and truly feel it. And I do. About this. About teaching. I know I am good at what I do. I don’t say this to boast, I say this because I am confident in my heart that I am meant to be doing this work. I have longed realized I do not fit the mold in many ways. I’m less concerned about belonging or fitting in, and it’s more about that I am human too. I have faults and imperfections too. I’m like everyone else even though I’m in a position of leadership and potential inspiration for others. I’m like everyone else and I have both successes and failures. I think the pressure of being a yoga teacher can sometimes be overwhelming, superficial and ridiculous. People expect certain things from you, want certain things from you. We are a culture of praise and complaint. We are annoyed by the simplest things and put people up on pedestals for the simplest things. It can be confusing and demeaning.
Would I still teach yoga if I didn’t get paid? Yes, in a heartbeat. Would I do the many things I love without getting paid? I have, I do and will probably continue to do so, sometimes. But we need money to survive, right? We should be valued for things we provide, right? We should be paid for what we do, right? So then, are we obligated to be a certain way, do certain things because we are getting paid for it? (Please note this is not a complaint on what I get paid.)
I realize I am more than a person that teaches yoga. I am more than a person that is paid to do things. I have interests that are not necessarily looked at as yoga, though for me there is no separation. I have interests that may disappoint, annoy or upset people. Please remember I am human, the choices I make will not please everyone. I’m trying to figuring things out like everyone else.
Spending time this past summer in South Korea and Finland, has given me some time to contemplate my position as a yoga teacher, artist and human being. Solo traveling is one of the best teachers. I am in constant curiosity of the shifts that happen within us and around us, of who we are and are becoming, of the light, the dark and the spaces in between.
Since my return from my travels, I knew I needed to cut back on my teaching. The first year of my graduate studies was the most intense, teaching 7-10 classes a week, taking 15 credits each semester, creating work, performing in a show nearly 20 times and traveling. It was too much. Currently, I happily teach 2-4 classes a week. Sometimes less depending on the week. Sometimes I sub. The space I created with teaching less has been good for me.
In Grad School, I’m investigating and unpacking family history and identity, often leaving me feeling vulnerable and exposed. It is scary place to be. So for now, I perform less. I perform when I choose or when it feels necessary. These are some of the thoughts and conclusions I have come to in the process of making different choices, saying no to certain things. It has been both challenging and insightful, and life I believe, will continue to be so. I want to share my truth in a honest and loving way. My hope is others will speak their truth in their own way, when the time is right for them.
About the Author:
Helen Lee, E-RYT® 500, YACEP®, has been teaching yoga since 2007 and believes yoga, meditation and mindfulness is a powerful, healing practice that can be navigated with grace and strength on your mat, off your mat, in your travels, in your home. Mindfulness is a practice she has been cultivating and evolving in herself, her teaching and her students. She received her 200hr yoga certification from Chicago Yoga Center with Suddha Weixler in 2007 and in 2013 completed her 300hr yoga certification from Rishikesh Yog Peeth in India with Krishna Sikhwal. She received her BA in Dance/Theatre at the University of Hawaii and has performed, studied and/or taught yoga in China, Belize, Finland, India, South Korea, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Chicago, Hawaii and New York. Currently, she is a MFA candidate in the Performance Department at School of Art Institute of Chicago. Helen was a dancer for The Humans from 2007-2018 and choreographs for her own site specific projects under the name Momentum Sensorium.
She has taught yoga to preprofessional dancers at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Intensive Programs and every summer organizes Beach Yoga that has donated to the following organizations: Ten Thousand Ripples, Obama Foundation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She has lead Yoga Teacher Trainings, Yoga Retreats/Workshops and Wellness/Fitness Programs. She is also certified in Pilates and Aerial Yoga and has been trained in Yin Yoga and Barre. She continues to widen her scope of discoveries by traveling solo, participating in artist residencies, silent meditations, mindfulness and yoga retreats and workshops. In her spare time, Helen enjoys cooking, whistling and laughing with her 3 nephews.
Photo credit: Katie Graves