Midge Maisel: Do you love it?
Lenny Bruce: Do I love what?
Midge Maisel: Comedy. Stand-up. Do you love it?
Lenny Bruce: Seriously?
Lenny Bruce: Well, I've been doing it awhile. Ok, let's put it like this: If there was anything else in the entire world that I could possibly do to earn a living, I would. Anything! I'm talking dry cleaners to the Klan, crippled kid portrait painters, slaughterhouse attendant. If someone said to me, "Leonard, you can either eat a guy's head, or do two weeks at the Copa," I'd say "Pass the fucking salt." It's a terrible, terrible job. It should not exist. Like cancer. And God.
Midge Maisel: But do you love it?
[Lenny shrugs, grins sheepishly, and walks away]
Midge Maisel: Yeah. He loves it.
(From the totally marvellous “The Marvellous Mrs Maisel”)
What yoga teaching has in common with stand-up comedy: low pay, lack of certainty and job security, travel to far-flung parts of the city, lots of evening gigs and occasionally wondering if anyone will turn up, creative freedom and moments standing with the sun on your face while everyone else commutes to work, the certainty that you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, the requirement to be yourself and bare your soul otherwise you’ll definitely never be any good, the likelihood of feeling silly and exposed, the moments of pure magic when you can get out of your own way and step back and watch it flow perfectly, the possibility of getting heckled and having peanuts/coconut water thrown at you, the joy of connection with others, the fact that, if you’re doing it, you love it in certain specific ways, and you kind of have to do it, even though it has agonising elements, there you are, still doing it.
Can I speak about the hard parts of teaching yoga on the same platforms where I am trying to sell the product of my yoga teaching? I am not sure, but here I go anyway. It seems like an omission not to mention certain BIG things, seeing as in lots of places I preach (and practice) honesty and communication. (And I am not sure that students need their teachers to have made it to the peak of some spiritually enlightened mountain, that it is actually reassuring to know they are still very much human.)
I am fascinated by what makes certain teachers struggle more with self-doubt, anxiety, imposter syndrome. I have seen brilliant teachers bring in a small number of devoted students and fairly average teachers serving up mainstream vinyasa pull in 60 people in a packed room (the question is, do you want to be David Lynch or David Guetta?) Is there room for the charismatic extroverts, the ex-dancers and teachers, and the quirky introverts? The hypermobile arm balancers and the slow and steady movers with a normal range of mobility? Why are some teachers class-fillers? (Sometimes it’s because they’re incredible teachers, but not always.) Why are some more like struggling artists? How come some are a bit of both?
My yoga teacher confession is: my biggest struggle is equating my worth as a teacher with how many people I get in the door. NUMBERS. I love teaching small groups but I also have to pay my bills. Numbers can easily become an obsession. There is the mild humiliation if hardly anyone comes, or if no one does (though at least then you can head home and watch Netflix). There is the lack of control – you do your best and then all you can do is sit back and wait.
Numbers go up, they go down, sometimes there is a logic to it but often there is not, and you can feel very smug when yours are good and exhaust yourself when you’re not. You can rack your brains as to what else you can do, then sense that doing less might be the key answer, but not so little that no one knows your class is on. You worry people will sniff out your anxiety and definitely won’t come or that YOUR BAD WORRIED VIBES WILL ENSURE YOU DON’T MANIFEST LARGE CLASS NUMBERS (yes this toxic spirituality can actually get to you).
There is the mild (or major) sinking feeling of seeing “competitors” move into the space (even though they all seem like really nice people, as a fellow yoga teacher said to me – humans are animals, no one wants someone else on their patch.) There is a similar sinking feeling – and let’s be honest, feelings of envy or resentment - when you see other teachers saying “my class is full” when you’re struggling.
Yoga teaching as a profession is complex because it’s a conflation of passion and necessity to pay the bills, like someone who sells paintings or writes books for money – things that don’t pay much but come from your heart. It is all made worse because you work alone and it’s easy to become very myopic and single-minded in your little predicament, blowing things out of proportion.
I love teaching yoga and there have also been times when I have wondered why the hell I am doing it and if I can really carry on amidst the ups and downs. Would I recommend anyone did this? Hell no, and yes, of course. Here I am, and I’m glad I’m not dry cleaning for the Ku Klux Klan, or working down a mine, and yet it often still feels hard, it probably won’t ever stop feeling hard, and I love it, and it’s hard.