How I Almost Became A Yoga Teacher by Rachel Hott, PhD
Teaching movement is not new for me. In 1979 I was an aerobics instructor for Gloria Stevens, located in Northampton, Mass. There wasn’t a lot of training to go through, but since I had modern dance and jazz background and had wished that I could be a Broadway dancer (which I was not), this job was the closest to dance that I got. After that job I pursued Dance Movement Therapy, which allowed me to also move with clients, but this time rather than teach it was a creative psychology process. So I guess now, 2013 I can claim to be a movement enthusiast.
My non-movement teaching or more correctly training, developed as I led groups at the American Management Association in communication training based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a communication model for inter and intra personal communication. During that time, about 1984 I had completed my NLP trainer’s training and was leading NLP practitioner and master practitioner groups.
So leading movement, leading people is something I have done for about 34 years.
Since 2006, I have been practicing Bikram Yoga, a hot yoga style. I remember hearing of it first from a client who would come in to the office from her heated class exhausted and exuberant. Then another time a student claimed that the 103 degree NYC humidity didn’t bother him because he was practicing Bikram yoga. A Bikram studio opened in my suburban town in Montclair, N.J. and my husband, Steven, took a few classes. He invited me to try it.
I never completely understood yoga. Since I had danced as a kid, the yoga postures looked like stretches. I never could do a headstand so I was somewhat intimidated. As it turned out there are no inversions with Bikram yoga, so that was a relief. I had so many friends, students and clients who spoke about yoga and now my husband was encouraging me so I decided to go with the flow. Since Steven and I never had a chance to take waltz or swing lessons together, taking Bikram was the closest thing to dancing together that we could get. We became morning regulars.
During the early days I used to practice at least 5x’s a week. Wow, I was becoming a yogi, or at least a Bikram yogi, which to some means boot camp yogi. There is no chanting in this hatha style yoga that Bikram Choudry developed. Basically he took 26 hatha yoga postures and put them in a particular order with a specific script. The 90-minute class is done in a hot room, usually above 100 degrees. The teachers are always adjusting the heat. I still don’t understand the method to their madness. In our first three years of training in Montclair we were never allowed to enter a class once it had begun. Lateness was not tolerated. If you came late to class that was your loss and no class for you. I often wondered how we could implement that in our NLP classes, but it just didn’t seem to work. The yoga student may miss that one class, but there would soon be another. In our NLP classes there aren’t multiple classes during the day, so unfortunately latecomers do come in. Of course those people often work on timeliness as a personal issue to improve upon.
Sadly and happily we were moving back to New York City in 2009. I was sad to say goodbye to our yoga studio and happy to start a new urban adventure. We had learned a lot in our first yoga studio, our teacher often shared interesting yoga stories through the rigorous same 26 postures. We would have to find another yoga studio, so we could “dance together,” which we did. There is no shortage of Bikram yoga studios in New York City and we found one that worked for us. The same postures, the same rules, although latecomers squeaked in after a breathing exercise or before the first set of postures.
Throughout this time I had taught the 26 postures to my friends and family, while on vacation in Mexico or with out of town family visiting. I, the forever “movement therapist/aerobics teacher,” led members through the 26 postures. I thought I would learn the Sanskrit names, but even now I have only about three I can say easily and the rest are written down somewhere still waiting to be learned.
In our new studio, there was one teacher who would come late to class. On occasion he would have one of his office staff, also yogis, some becoming teachers, lead the opening series. I began to fantasize about how I would open a class. Each beginning substitute had their own style, one a modern dancer encouraged the class with wonderful metaphors, another a professional athlete was more technical, and then of course the beginning student who would soon become teacher, was sweet and nervous. I wondered what I would be like. I was supposed to be concentrating and meditating, but I found my mind wandering to the possibility of me being the teacher.
My issue about the class starting on time was mostly about getting back to work on time for my clients. Over the years Steven and I still liked to “dance together,” but there were many times that I had to schedule my yoga class time at a different time than his. I was now averaging 2-3x’s taking class. I didn’t really want to start the class (it was just a fantasy), but when the class wasn’t starting on time, I felt myself becoming annoyed because I had timed my schedule and wanted to have enough time to get back to the office. Since other people were starting the class I thought well maybe I could too. This is when the phrase, “Be careful for what you wish for,” begins to echo.
One day I noticed that the teacher who was now typically late was scheduled to teach, and the office staff person was not at all experienced in leading. I decided and thought, “this is my turn, today is the day that I would lead the class.” I went outside to tell the office staff person my decision and was surprised to discover that he wasn’t there. No one was in the office and the outside doors were locked, which bothered me because what if we wanted to leave. Only later did I learn that the lock is on the bottom of the door would have been easily unlocked. At that point I made an executive decision and went into the yoga studio.
“Hello everyone, my name is Rachel, and our teacher is running late. So let’s get started.” I had heard the same Bikram dialogue for six years, I had practiced the postures on my own, I had taught it to friends and family, so there was something familiar in the beginning. What was not familiar was speaking in a hot room and having 10 or more students following my instructions. I got through about 8 minutes when the teacher arrived and he thanked me and took over the class.
I was excited, charged, my adrenaline had kicked in. I actually hoped he would be late again. After class I spoke with the teacher and we discussed that if he’s late in the future that I would begin the class. This happened again. Now I was on a roll, my old dancer/aerobics/new yoga identity was beginning to blend. I found myself using imagery to inspire the postures. The teacher came in and I went to my spot. I did not mind him being late.
This happened several times. Quite honestly I have lost count, maybe five or six times have I now come to the front of the room, introduced myself, acknowledged everyone for being on time, encouraged them to breath, concentrate and meditate and begin. For my help, I have received free coconut water.
My criteria about time changed, when I had the chance to take leadership and have creativity in the moment of teaching. One time after class the teacher thanked me for starting the postures, said, “ I would like to meet with you to discuss the dialogue, so you can do it the Bikram way.” He might as well have said, “Now I am going to muzzle you and chain you to the fence.” My criteria shifted again and I thought I don’t want to lose my freedom. So I went back to preferring to be a student because that is what my practice is about.
Until one day again when the teacher was late and I started the class, and I even went around to students and gave them “helpful,” corrections. Now I felt the power of being the teacher and it was exciting. Then the teacher came and exclaimed, “thank you Rachel, and you even had a teacher in the class!” I did not know that there was a visiting teacher in the class, and I had actually corrected him in the breathing section. Then my teacher asks the visiting teacher, “How did she do?” To which the visiting teacher replied, “Excellent, she takes leadership and knows her stuff.” Then my teacher says, “Do you think she is ready to go to training?” (Bikram teacher’s training is a three-month commitment). The visiting teacher says, “Yes.” And there was the making of me becoming a yoga teacher.
In the locker room, a student asks me if I am going to go to teacher’s training. The perception was crafted, I was now being seen as a yoga teacher in the making.
I told her I have a full time psychotherapy practice, plus what I didn’t tell her is that I lead NLP and Ericksonian hypnosis trainings and run a business with my husband and I am lucky enough to take 2-3 classes a week. I don’t have time or the real desire to become a yoga teacher. I can’t even remember the Sanskrit after 6 years, so really now, I am not becoming a yoga teacher.
Somewhere early in my first year of taking Bikram classes I fantasized about going to teacher’s training, maybe even my husband and I would go together. What would it be like to be one of the older students, would I be able to pass the rigorous anatomy and Sanskrit tests, and then of course I would remind myself of my already successful professional life. It was a fantasy. It took me out of concentrating and meditating. Yet now in some peculiar way I have been almost made into a yoga teacher.
Perhaps when Steven and I are in our 80’s done with The NLP Center of NY we will consider taking the teacher’s training. Until then I will probably be almost a yoga teacher for a long while.
Rachel Hott, PhD
co-director The NLP Center of NY
24 E. 12th Street, NY, NY 10003