Yoga teachers are human, and though it is easy to place them on pedestals during a class and consider them to exist outside of the bump and grind of the day to day, they actually experience the embarrassing, the uncomfortable, and the awkward while in front of 30 to 60 watching eyes. There is no escape..
In my short time as a teacher I have almost peed myself twice — too nervous to break the flow of the class to support my own and have come way too close to a nip-slip for my liking.
To seek solidarity in the messy and the humbling, I asked other teachers to share their most embarrassing moments. Some of the experiences that were shared with me took on a humorous tone while others promoted more anxiety in the moment.
Language and body cues can be tricky when you are caught up in the moment and trying to clearly articulate how you want your students to move. Precision is key. Will Schneider, who currently teaches at Earth Yoga, Yoga Vida, and NY Loves Yoga, remembers the time he began teaching to a packed class by asking everyone to go ahead and “feel their breast.” He recalls growing red, pausing for a moment, and then admitting that they were in for a long hour together.
Ella Luckett, founder and owner of Jai Yoga Arts in Brooklyn, recalls the time when a coughing fit overcame her in the middle of teaching and she had to leave the room to settle herself. “In the room behind me there were about 30 people. I was embarrassed and just felt weak, and overwhelmed. That three minutes seemed like a lifetime.”
Many take pride in the ambience and mood they create. But Shayna Hiller, experienced the woes of iPod shuffle mode. She had put her students down in savasana, leading them into deep relaxation, when the stereo took on a life of its own. “Soft Tibetan singing bowls were playing, and the song was about to end... everyone was very relaxed and energy was moving towards silence and stillness. Mistakenly, my iPod went to A Hard Day's Night by the Beatles, which, if you don't know the song, starts quite loudly and abruptly. Everyone literally jumped, gasped, or let out a small shriek.”
Demonstrating poses can also lead to some less-then-perfect moments. Alana Kessler founder of Sangha Yoga Shala in Williamsburg talked about how she has learned to fall with grace. “More times than I can count, I have faltered rather epically while demonstrating a specific posture either by losing balance in a standing posture or falling flat on my face and/or into a wall in an arm balance or inversion.” Falling out of a balance posture, particularly crow (spoken from much experience), can be painful to the ego as well as to the face.
After twenty years, Devarshi Steven Hartman has accumulated quite the collection of experiences, such as forgetting to turn off his clip-on microphone when he excused himself from a class of two hundred students to use the bathroom.
Devarshi’s worst oh-my-Ganesha moment: “I was leading a session in Kapalabhati pranayama (skull polishing breath), an intense forceful exhale, all through the nose. I was on an elevated yoga platform in full view of my seventy yoga students slightly below me, my co-teacher off to the side. I had just gotten a cold. In offering my demonstration, I enthusiastically exhaled gloppy strings of thick green snot showering the front row of students. I was surprised. They were sickened. No Kleenex close by. Under-estimating the amount on my face, I took my hand to wipe and found myself with copious amounts of spider webs of mucus between all ten of my fingers and my face.” Perhaps in some schools of yoga being snotted on by a revered teacher could serve as a blessing of sorts.
Every teacher has moments that they wish they could rewind. Yet while talking with each of these experienced ygginis - whom I grew to respect even more for their honesty and light-hearted perspectives - went on to share an unprompted gem of wisdom that they’ve found hidden in the inevitable messiness of teaching.
Devarshi, who continues to lead teacher trainings at the 200 and 500 hour level, gave me his seasoned approach to laughing at himself: “In the end, yoga is about authenticity. Laughing at our selves is the first step. Perfection is no fun. Humor works wonders at loosening the body and mind. Above all, we must be our messy, imperfectly perfect selves.”
Next time you’re in a class and your teacher passes gas while demonstrating half moon, send them a bit of compassion. They are semi-human after all.