I am currently in the throws of being a student on an Advanced Teacher Training course. Yep – I’ve gone back to bending school and my inner yoga geek could not be more delighted.
There are around 50 of us on the course in total and, as is the case with these sorts of things, we’re a diverse bunch. (Ok – not so diverse in gender. But a big “yey” for the handful of blokes!). Some people are full-time teachers, others teaching whenever life allows. We’ve got people who seem to have the Being Bendy and Inherently Graceful genes firmly in their system, and others for whom just getting heels to the floor in Downward Facing Dog is a wonderful cause for celebration.
And again, as is the case with these sort of things, everyone is a genuinely lovely human. Whatever our level of practice, or our reason for taking to a yoga mat in the first place, or the amount of external rotation available in our shoulder girdle, we’ve all been brought together by the same reasons; to deepen our understanding of this awesome practice and make ourselves better teachers.
Our teacher is brilliant and everything you’d want your yoga teacher to be. The assistants are awesome. The material is fascinating. The daily practices are inspiring. I love every moment.
Or at least I did.
In the studio where we’re studying they sell the splendid magazine which I happen to write a monthly column for in the foyer. (I refuse to frequent anywhere which doesn’t sell it, obviously.) And, as all good retail outlets do, they have piles of them for people to peruse before purchasing.
On one of our lunch breaks I was chomping happily on an oatcake, when I spotted the most recent edition laid out on the table next to me. Rather than thinking ‘Oooh how wonderful! My fellow students will get to see the last thing I wrote!’ I went into a total tailspin.
My stomach flipped. My heart rate went up. Instead of wanting my lovely new friends to see my piece, I was panicked. I didn’t want them to see it. Why? Because I suddenly felt like I had no place writing articles about yoga for a national magazine. Why should me – little old me – be thinking that I knew anything about yoga? No. They absolutely should not see it because then my cover would be blown – they would realise I was an imposter.
Of course, the rational me (which was sadly away browsing the leggings for sale at that time) knew this wasn’t true. It knew that I’ve been a teacher for over ten years, practicing for years prior to that, and have taught many hundreds of students, in different countries, and have never (knowingly) broken anyone…blah blah blah….but at that moment in time it counted for nothing.
The spiralling continued. I saw all of them as “better” than me. I convinced myself that all their classes were full all the time. That they sold out every retreat they ever did. Who was I to be in the same room as all these people who had a stronger practice than me, asked intelligent questions, had quicker anatomical insights than me? Oh and all looked impossibly glamorous and had better outfits than me.
And as soon as they saw the magazine they’d know that I shouldn’t be there.
So what could I do? I quite liked being welcomed in the studio so whipping all the copies into the recycling bin would probably have been a bad move. On my meagre yoga teachers wage buying them all wasn’t going to happen. So I tried to take a moment and drag the ‘rational me’ away from the shop.
I took a deep breath and did some thinking. I invite you, should you ever find yourself in a similar situation to also consider the following. This funny thing they call Imposter Syndrome can hit whether we’re starting a new job, joining a new yoga class, or meeting a partner’s family for the first time. So whatever scenario you find yourself in, consider this…
1. This is not real life.
Yes – I know I’m always all about the Real Life, but in this instance realise that you are experiencing these people in just a small snippet of their lives. You may be seeing them in a window when they are able to be the very best version of themselves. I’m not suggesting that they have some sort of Jekyll and Hyde personality and are the total opposite as soon as they’re out of your sight, but you are seeing them in one moment of time.
The person who has the most wonderful, graceful practice? Her marriage could be on the rocks and she hates her job. The guy who makes all the best contributions to the monthly marketing meeting? He could be struggling to find a real connection with his loved ones. The woman at the school gates who turns up looking like she’s stepped off the cover of Health and Fitness Magazine? She might be battling her own insecurities and has no friends she can open up to.
We are thrown into waves of despair because we think the people around us are perfect human beings with wonderful lives not only in that moment, but the rest of the time too. And it’s highly unlikely to be true. So remember – this is just a snapshot. This is just a moment of time when they get to shine. It doesn’t mean you can’t shine alongside them, or that you don’t shine in different ways.
2. Find the facts.
Whilst I was convincing myself that each and every one of my fellow students was The Best Yoga Teacher in The World, I had to get my brain to look at the facts. First of all, my classes do have plenty of lovely students coming to them. My courses and workshops and retreats sell out on a regular basis. Quite a few of my students have been coming to me for years. My articles must be ok because my magnificent Editor hasn’t told me to never darken his inbox again.
Whilst I wasn’t quite able to drum up a full imaginary cheerleading squad for my own accomplishments and talents, finding these little nuggets of unquestionable facts helped ground me in the reality of my own situation.
In these moments when we’re in the whirlwind of self doubt, we give our inner critic the opportunity to not only go into full rant mode, but it also gets hold of a megaphone. There’s little point in trying to make weak arguments that you should feel another way. See if you can get into the black and white of facts that will support you in giving the negative voices in your head a smackdown.
3. Use it to lose it.
Once I was able to access the more rational part of my brain, I had to acknowledge that I was different to my fellow students. It was true that there were people in the room who were stronger than me, thinner than me, funnier than me…and getting all tied up in knots about it (mentally rather than physically – my chronically tight hip abductors wouldn’t allow it) wasn’t going to change that. So how could I use this mini freak-out to strengthen me rather than stress me?
I started Real Life Yoga because I felt that all the things about me which I used to think held me back from being a “good” yoga teacher were actually massive benefits; the not being naturally bendy, the not wanting to give up wine, the not always being a bundle of joy and inner peace….so why on earth did I suddenly think that I should be like everyone else?
What are your strengths that make you totally different from all those people who you feel like you should be idealising? I can guarantee it’s all the reasons you’re not like those people that are some of your most endearing, valuable and discerning features.
P.S. A little follow-up note, dear reader. After I had wrangled my way out of this little episode, the next edition of the magazine came out during our second week of training. Again it appeared in the venue’s shop. Only this time REAL LIFE YOGA was across the front flippin’ cover and I had not one but TWO articles in it. I could almost hear The Universe laughing and high-fiving itself…