Teach to the Room

It had to happen eventually.

I went to teach class with my mat and water and lesson plan, and no one showed up. 

I sat on my mat for a short time, trying to exude welcome-ness--which just looks like me with my eyebrows raised and a bit of a goofy smile on my face--and when it became clear that I'd be alone, I turned off the obnoxious fluorescent lights and I practiced by myself.

I'm a young teacher, and I'm learning what it means to teach, and how to teach, by teaching. I'm new, and I don't know a lot, and I'm still crafting.

So I wasn't destroyed by the fact that no one came to class.

During my study, I asked Elesa Commerce what it meant to hold space for people. She blessed all of us, her students that day, and called us healers, medicine women and men who had a powerful responsibility--and maybe calling?--to provide room for healing, support and presence for anyone who'd ever step into our classroom. It is a big deal, what you're doing, she told us. When you cross the threshold of the classroom, it becomes your space. You're the container of the energy of class, you need to hold it with great consistency. Part of what you're doing as a teacher in this room is feeling people, she said. Teach to whoever shows up in the room.

This is the energy I'd take with me into the room. When I was so nervous I couldn't breathe or swallow, I'd tell myself, all you have to do is put the work out there, Jess. Prepare thoughtfully, teach compassionately, detach fully from the results. That's it.

I think an attitude like this makes it easy to receive an empty room. If you wind up being the only person in the room, then you (or I) can offer the same compassion, consideration and detachment to ourselves that we would to our students. 

The other side of the coin, of course, concerns, well, coin.  We're all trying to make a living, even those of us who teach yoga, with or without the glitz and  sex appeal. It's my understanding (and I don't know much) that in some corners of the industry, teachers get paid based on how many people show up to class. So if you're lucky enough to land the right spot in the schedule and draw, eight, 10, 17 students a night or week, then you make good. If you're in a less attractive slot, well, good luck. This phenomenon makes me kind of anxious. I'd really like to think less about filling the room with bodies, and more about preparing the students for a fruitful journey with their breath, their mind, their body, their consciousness. I wonder, is this the way it has to be? What's important about offering yoga as a service or experience, and what to we teach ourselves and each other about its priority when we price it this way? I'm not sure if this is a question about yoga or integrity or capitalism or what. I just know that when I begin to think more about how to draw people into class so I can make a decent wage, and less about how to use postures, breathwork and attention exercises to work mindfully with the bodies in the room, well, it bums me out. 

I'm privileged in that if no one shows up to my class, I don't have to worry about how I'll make rent or afford to buy medication. I'm fortunate to have learned to offer a great, grounded experience to a room whether it's filled with many people or few. I see the ads about how to "live the life I've always wanted as a yoga teacher!" on FB and I get twitchy. But I think of the running ragged and the jumping at every chance to teach that I assumed I'd have to do, and started to do, and I want to stay home, eat potato chips and watch Big Bang Theory reruns. 

So it would seem that, at least for now, the work in front of me is to continue to prepare, to continue to offer mindfully, without taking attendance, to continue to teach to whomever shows up, even if that's just me, and to trust that, as friends have said, my students will find me.

In the meantime, extra time to be still and quiet is always a blessing.