Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Thundering Ego

On Sunday mornings I teach gentle yoga at the yoga center where I did my teacher training. I have a fairly regular core group, and others that come and go. This morning, we were joined by a woman who was trying yoga for the first time. While I checked others in, one of my regulars chatted with the newcomer, giving her the rundown of the classes available. I'm sure I wasn't meant to hear, but I overheard her telling the new woman, "Can you come to the other gentle class? Debbie's a really good teacher, but Anna's even better." Ouch.

I should have thought, "wow, she thinks I'm a really good teacher," but instead my ego took over and all I heard was that I'm not as good as Anna. I thought about it all day.

In truth, I am not as good a yoga teacher as Anna. I have been teaching for less than a year, and Anna has much more experience. She is twenty years older than me and, with no kids left at home, has much more time to devote to developing as a teacher. I do what I can, but with my full-time job, and a teenager and a kindergartner who need me, I can't always make yoga my first priority. I should be thrilled that anyone thinks I'm "really good."

I am naturally competitive, in a bad way. When I was younger, I avoided sports, musical instruments, and anything else that didn't come easy to me, because I hated to be told I wasn't good at something. Instead of motivating me to try harder, my fragile ego convinced me I didn't need to do those things anyway. I did well in class and was happy because, when report cards came out, I always beat the jocks. When my friends did better than me, I found new friends.

When I first discovered yoga, it took me months to stop watching everyone else to make sure I was doing each asana at least as good as them. Even in the safety of the yoga studio, my ego wouldn't rest. If a teacher adjusted my pose, I went home and cried. After more than ten years, I'm still competitive, but I've learned to compete only with myself - most of the time.

My ego came screaming back in teacher training, and I worked hard to make sure I was doing better than everyone else. I had the advantage of having the most years of asana practice and none of the physical limitations that seemed to plague the others in the group. I took the work seriously, and was the only one who consistently handed in homework on time. I loved teacher training. I felt like I was winning.

Now I am no longer in teacher training and I'm the newbie in a group of experienced teachers. I have to keep reminding myself that the only way I will ever be as good as the other teachers is to keep teaching. For the time being, I need to quiet my thundering ego and be where I am. I always tell my students to leave their egos at the door and practice yoga without self-judgement. I should follow my own advise.
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