How to Deal with Nervousness Before Teaching
In the last training I taught, we briefly discussed how to deal with the anxiety around getting in front of a group to teach, which many of them had experienced. It is a very practical topic. To get nervous before teaching is natural, and a certain amount of stress can actually be a good thing. But you don’t have to let it control you or negatively affect the classes you teach.
Getting out of the way
One thing that has always helped me is to remember that it is not about me! Teaching is about sharing the yoga with others, working toward being positively uplifted together. I am not naturally outgoing, nor would I necessarily choose to be in front of a group speaking. But I have always been okay teaching yoga, because I have never felt that I was the focus of my classes. I have always felt that there was some help as I taught; the practices speak for themselves.
People want to enjoy the class
It is also good to remember that people do not come to a class looking for or expecting a bad experience. Once in a while you come across unhappy people who are impossible to please. But most people come to a yoga class wanting to relax, reduce stress, have an enjoyable time.
You are merely facilitating this positive experience. The more you can get out of the way and allow the yoga to do its work, the more the students will enjoy the class, and the less anxiety you will have around teaching.
You have a rich tradition to draw strength from. If you keep up your own personal practice, you remain more of a conduit. Stay connected each day to practice, and you will naturally be in a better position to teach, and your instruction will derive from a place of direct experience and personal reflection. That way there will be more of a transmission.
The Bhagavad Gita illustrates the analogy of Krishna’s flute. Through the practices, we should empty ourselves of unnecessary ego, so we are more clear. When we are not filled with ego, we become like Krishna’s flute, hollow, and Krishna is then able to play his music through us.
That is to say, when we are not overly identified with what we are doing, when there is no ownership involved, we then become an instrument of the Divine. We can clearly pass on the teachings without them being discolored by personal misunderstanding, jealousy, self-righteousness and any other negative emotions that stem from this over-identification with the small self.
Anticipation is the worst part
Usually the anticipation is far worse than anything else. We are most likely to get nervous before a class. Once we are in front of the group there is some momentum and a presence of mind. Standing in front of the group should force us to be present. And if we are completely present then it is very difficult for it to be about us. When we are in it, in the class with full presence of mind, it is about the teachings themselves and about the process of sharing.
Switching off the anxiety
Therefore, if we are somehow able to switch this off in our heads before a class, we would start to decondition ourselves to this response. Being aware of the anxious thoughts is the first step in dealing with them, and it is through regular practice that we cultivate this awareness. Once we can catch the thoughts as they arise, we can thenflip them (focus on the opposite, like the fact that we are far more likely to have a positive experience than the rare times that are negative),or replace them with a mantra or other uplifting thought or action. You could also find some other technique that works for you. With time and the accumulation of positive classroom experiences, we find that we are naturally able to notice the anxiety when it first comes up and then simply turn it off, or at least turn it down.
It is not mine
And what a blessing it is to be able to teach with a sense of service. During the fire ceremony we repeat, “idam na mama,” or, “it is not mine.” The teachings, the practices, none of it belongs to us. There should never be any sense of ownership with students or teachings, and if there is we are not in the state of Yoga. That is how cults form, and that is how things become dangerous. If we are teaching (and practicing) with a sense of offering, then what we teach can never become perverted or misdirected. In this way, it can never hurt us or our students; it can only help them.
Ultimately, students can sense when a teacher becomes driven by ego. They recognize those teachers who are overly concerned with fame, money, reputation, or those who try to own students. This kind of teacher may be successful for a period of time, but, inevitably,things will not end well for them. We have seen this happen endlessly in the modern and historical yoga world, and we are better off to steer clear of this pattern. Every time you teach, every time you practice, make sure you offer up the teaching and the practice to the benefit of others. Hold onto nothing.
To really feel “it is not mine” on a deep level is an invaluable gift. Truly it is the giver who is blessed; there is tremendous freedom in being able to give selflessly.