I've been practicing yoga regularly since 1990. I started teaching it in 1996. All that experience leads folks to think I'm somehow more evolved, more flexible, calmer, stronger, healthier than everyone else. An enormous number of those assumptions come to me by way of the words: "You must be ..." Once in a while, it starts with "I bet you can ..." or "I bet you never ...," but it's the same misconception about yoga teachers being above mere mortals. At least this yoga teacher. I'd like to set the record straight.
1) You must practice a lot.
Actually, once you start teaching, finding time to practice gets harder. Teaching class is NOT the same as practicing yoga. Add my family (husband, two children, a dog, four turtles) to teaching yoga for a living, and my daily yoga practice might be noticing how my feet hit the ground as I walk the dog, or watching if/how I'm breathing while making dinner, or paying attention to the volleyball game/swim meet/ultimate frisbee game I've just driven a child to. I count a week where I actually get on the mat two or three times to be a banner week. (Since I consider yoga to be more than being on the mat, I do practice a lot. But that's not what most folks mean.)
2) I bet you can do all those fancy arm balances and pretzel poses.
I'm actually not very flexible and mostly work hard in very simple poses. I came to yoga to heal a lot of injuries from a career as a dancer. I had no business being a dancer with the short tendons and tight ligaments I have, and there were lots of injuries. These days I accept my limited mobility (worsened by all that dance I shouldn't have been doing) and I know that sitting in full lotus is in the faaaar distant future, if at all. And that I am not a bad person for not being able to sit that way. I admit I do love me a handstand (nothing fancier though --- my wrists don't bend past 90º), but that ability doesn't make me a better person any more than not sitting in lotus should lower my worth.
3) Your voice is so calming. You must live so peacefully.
When I am teaching class, the goal is to instruct, not aggravate. It is my job. Ask my children about my voice when I get cut off in traffic. (Yeah, sometimes I wish the offender peace and hope they get wherever they're going safely, but sometimes I yell at the a$$hat.) I do have a temper. Always have. And I have high standards for myself an others. And I have a family with whom I laugh, fight, cheer on, love, get annoyed. I'm certainly calmer than I would have been without 24 years of yoga, but I'm not sure that means I'm calm and peaceful.
4) You must be so relaxed.
Let me return to the husband, two children, dog, four turtles, and full-time teaching schedule. I should explain that teaching full-time means being my own personal assistant: booking workshops, creating marketing materials, maintaining a media presence (this blog, my YouTube channel, FaceBook page, Twitter account, LinkedIn, a newsletter, the constant linking of sites). And because my schedule has odd hours, it is often up to me to do the shopping and cooking and laundry. Yeah, I'm relaxed. All the time. Uh-huh. I'm also sarcastic.
5) You seem so happy. You must never get upset.
I definitely look for the positive and try not to hold on to worries. But I am also human. Living in the present and finding silver linings doesn't mean there is never any suffering. Bad things happen. I try not to add to my own suffering by creating worries and problems. Sometimes I fail miserably and cause grief to myself and others. The yoga practice then becomes forgiving myself and others. It's hard work. And not very happy at times.
6) I bet you never eat junk food. You must be so healthy.
"Healthy" is different for different stages of life. My children were raised early on with home-baked bread, organic everything. But I got through my first pregnancy with a weekly BK Broiler (Burger King no longer makes it). You'd have thought twice about trying to stop me; it was a craving beyond belief. While I'm trying to heal my eczema with a wheat-free/dairy-free diet right now, I consider a sea salt brownie one of the best things ever invented. The freezer is stocked with frozen pizzas for the kids on busy days with practices, meets, concerts, nights when I teach, one parent out of town, etc. Yep, I eat junk sometimes and I feed it to my family, too. Right now, our schedules are so complicated, I just hope everyone gets enough calories. Not healthy, but honest about my limits to provide. It's in our choices that we define healthy. I am trying to balance this better. But I am also working to accept this stage of our lives and know it won't kill us. (Okay, maybe it will contribute to ill health later, but so will arguing over these issues day in and day out. Choices.)
So as you can see, I am pretty much like everyone else. I haven't achieved some level of inner peace beyond the norm. I happen to know more about the workings of the hip joint or shoulder girdle than someone who doesn't teach yoga (or practice medicine). I am aware of my presence and energy in ways I never used to be. And I have some resources for peace and healing that you might not yet know. But, hey, I'm a yoga teacher. I can teach you all about it. And then you, too, can be more aware of just how human you are. And next time someone tells you they teach yoga, don't feel weird about the candy bar in your bag or the argument you didn't handle well. It's a journey. For all of us.
Deep, and not so deep, thoughts on yoga, art, parenting, dogs. You know, life.