When you’re broken but you have to teach
Teaching yoga is like acting: your life is the script and you are the main character. Action!
One of the most difficult things that I have ever had to face as a yoga instructor is walking into a room full of people waiting/needing for me to teach class while I am going through a difficult time personally. The role of a yoga teacher is to motivate and inspire those that come to class with broken bodies, broken minds, and broken hearts.
But what if they are broken too?
One of my teachers, and close friends, Johnna Smith earns her living (as I do) teaching yoga. Her father was dying in the hospital over the course of several months. His conditions worsened until finally it was his time. Johnna had to teach, she had to make her living and pay her bills, but she was broken. Her heart was heavy with her fathers deterioration, but she had to show up, and she did. You didn’t have to know what she was going through to feel it in her presence. She continued to teach, motivate, and inspire, but you could feel it; there was an underlying energy that you felt and you connected with.
Growing up I was always the class clown (officially in the 6th grade, and my Senior year in HS). I always dreamed of being an actor/comedian. I was a Sophomore in college when my parents surprised me with the enrollment into Comedy Zone’s Intro to Comedy class. Basically, you learned the basics over 6 or 8 weeks, you put a routine together, invite all of your friends, and you perform for them. It was fun and I did pretty well, I think. Graduating from the class allowed me to MC some shows, and do amateur nights. That was fun for a while, but I was ready to learn to be an actor. I moved on to enroll with The Film Actor’s Studio here in Charlotte, where my acting coach was Lon Bumgarner.
We always remember great teachers, and Lon was one of those for me. He called me out pretty quickly in the beginning. He said, “Tanner, comedy is a performance, acting is being.”. Basically, he was saying that when you go on stage as a comedian you are there to entertain others by “putting on a show”, whereas acting is a whole other mess of its own.
First thing’s first: Acting is Being.
Most people may not have ever given it any thought, but when you see bad acting you know it, and when you see great acting you know that too. So what makes the difference?
When an actor is asked to play an the role of a man tormented with regret, they are not asking them to “act” like a man tormented with regret, they want him to BE a man that is tormented with regret.
There are various methods of getting oneself to the point of feeling any emotion. Over the course of our lives we have countless examples that might apply. Of course some emotions are a lot easier to get to than others; happy versus tormented for example. There are several actors took techniques to the extreme and literally became the characters they portrayed (Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Heath Ledger in Dark Knight, etc…).
When I first started acting I thought the same thing: so what?
Then I was asked to act… on film… in front of other people…
Lon broke it down to me very quickly and very simply.
Lon: let’s say you are having a terrible day at work, you’re in tears in your office, and someone knocks at your door and they’re coming in. What’s the first thing that you do?
Me: Stop crying.
Lon: EXACTLY! And why do you do that?
Me: Because I don’t want them to see me crying.
Lon: RIGHT? And why don’t you want them to see you crying?
Me: Because it would be uncomfortable.
Lon: CORRECT! So here is all you have to do if you want to be a great actor: “be comfortable being uncomfortable! And not just in front of one person, but in front of EVERYBODY!”
The hardest thing to teacher a new yoga teacher is how to just be themselves teaching yoga, because to be yourself requires that you allow yourself to be vulnerable. Most newbies walk into the room and sound like Glinda the Good Witch, with voices that sound as though they are singing to you. They do this because rather than being themselves they put on a mask and “act” like a yoga teacher. No one gets this right the first time. It’s like the scene in the Matrix when Morpheus takes Neo into the Jump Program and shows him that he can leap from one building to the next: Neo jumps and falls flat on the pavement. Later on a character asks,” What does it mean that he fell?”. Someone responds, ”Nothing, no one makes it on the first jump.”
I digress… (btw I don’t know what that word or phrase means, but I think I’m using is right…)
Bad yoga is like bad acting, you don’t know what it is but something was wrong there.
When a teacher teaches as themselves, and takes off all the masks that hide who they are, then they unknowingly allow students to do the same. From that place a real sense of connection can form with students. It gives them permission unconsciously to be themselves, lower their defenses, and to start to take off the layers of shit they have accumulated mentally and physically over their lifetime.
Now I’m jumping around, but just to review:
- Teaching yoga is like acting.
- Acting is hard, in general, because it requires that you are actually experiencing an emotional state NOT acting like you feel an emotional state.
- Acting is easier, but still tough as shit, to act happy then it is to act tormented (or any other emotion down there at the bottom of the list).
- Teaching yoga is hard because it requires you to be yourself in front of a bunch of people.
- Teaching yoga is easier when you’re in a great mood and everything is going your way…
But WHAT THE FUCK do you do when you’re broken and you have to teach?
Here is the script synopsis:
Guy runs an extremely successful studio decides to expand. The numbers were crunched, and in theory could work. Advisors prescribe a cautious conservative route, but that shit is thrown to the wind. Attorneys, architects, engineers, contractors, and brokers are brought in; leases are signed; money is literally flying out the fucking window at an incredible rate!(Tangent…”Look Harry it feels as though I am running at an incredible rate!”- Jim Carey, Dumb and Dumber) The original budget estimate was just a tad bit off, but there was a Plan B, however it went down the shitter. Guy needs a loan. Construction commences even with the short fall while Guy goes looking for a loan. He knocks on a few doors, but after months and months each of them falls short to being able to help. (If you think getting a mortgage right now is a pain in the ass, try asking to borrow a million dollars to build the largest yoga studio in the country! Just sayin…FML) So, construction stops; months go by and he hasn’t been paid; employees are starting to get worried about their jobs; rumors are spreading amongst the student base; all is looking gloom. Guy keeps going. Months of let downs and false hopes, mistakes made, errors in judgement, and heart wrenching regrets; Guy keeps going.
I want to give a special GO TO HELL to the colon, the semi-colon, the parenthesis, and the hyphen! I don’t know how to use either of you properly, but if Wordpress doesn’t correct me, then I’m just going to assume I am a brilliant author and pretend ignorance is bliss!
Guy has two of what seem to be the banks of last resort decline to do a deal and all seems lost; BUT, at 9:15am the next day on a Thursday morning he has to teach….
WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU DO THEN?
The rules don’t change. If you are going to be a great teacher/actor then you have to accept that you are going to be exposed, and whatever you are feeling is going to be seen by EVERYONE!
I did teach that day, albeit in shades. Eyes are the windows to the soul. In my mind, if you can’t see my eyes, then you can’t see me (it’s my ostrich defense, or if you wanna be all yogic call it reverse pratyahara; Google that shit and it will make sense! ).
I will be honest, there have been some days along this journey that I looked at the script and said, “yeah, you know, I’m gonna go ahead and take a pass on this piece of shit script. I’m gonna rewrite this one where Guy gets a sub and stays home where he curls up on the couch, tears streaming down his face hopeless and defeated where NO ONE can see him. Let me know when the guy gets a glimmer of hope again and I might be willing to act that one out for EVERYONE to see!”.
SO WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU DO?
You show up, you keep going, and you don’t put back on masks. If you are having a great day then you share that. If you are having a shitty day, then you share that. You offer your authentic self even if you think that it’s ugly and you don’t want people to see that side of you. Share your experiences with others; your successes and your failures.
Or stay home, I’ve gone that route too! It’s called Child’s Pose mother fucker, and any yoga teacher will back me up in saying: It’s a valid fucking option!
BTW, maybe this is the right time to endorse that Johnna and I will be leading another 200hr Teacher Training in January!
She’ll work on making you cry like a baby, and I’ll do my best add humor; wine helps too!
“It’s okay!”- Johnna/not Johnna