The following is an excerpt of commencement day of Spring 200 + hour Ready-to-Lead-Strala Training by a Strala regular and good friend of ours, Todd Belt.  He spoke to the group as a friend, student, customer, beginner, and open mind.  The following is great advice for new and experienced yoga teachers, to not only remember who they are teaching to, but the potential for continued learning, helping, and humility in the process. Enjoy! – xo Tara

To my new Yoga Instructor,

My name is Todd Belt and I am excited to be one of your first students as you start out on this incredible new journey, one that I look forward to taking with you.  But before we begin, there are some things that I want you to know about me so that we can get them out of the way early on in our student/teacher relationship.  I’m not very good at organizing my thoughts verbally, so I thought I would instead write you this letter.

I’ve been doing yoga now for exactly two years.  You may prefer the term “practicing yoga” as you, of course, have a “yoga practice.”  But as you will soon see, what I have is by no means a “yoga practice.”  It is what you will soon refer to as “Todd’s Sweaty Mat Time.”  Tara thinks that it’s because I wear two shirts.  Michael thinks that it’s because I’m “over thinking” things.  Regardless of the root cause, I’m one hot mess (and not in a good way) and I apologize in advance for the sweat…I am trying to keep it on my mat and not on the floor, and I promise to clean up after myself.

I started out as an elliptical addict, mostly to counteract my frequent trips to the All-I-Could-Eat buffet, as well as my nightly lobster and heroine binges.  While the repetitive motion got my legs moving, it really was an excuse to numb my mind for an hour while watching some trashy TV show on my iPad.  I really didn’t crave the physical activity – I just wanted to know which Kardashian sister was going to get into a fight, or see who was going to get voted out of the house or off the island this week.

So, there I was, just five minutes into one of my typical brain-drain sessions when the unthinkable happened: my iPad battery died.  What was I going to do? Without the visual stimulation, there was no way I could endure the boredom that came with the grinding steps of the elliptical machine.  But just as I was about to head home, I overheard two women talking about the Yoga class that they were going to in a few minutes.  Yoga!  Are you kidding me?  How could they possibly be excited to be going to a Yoga class?  Wasn’t Yoga for bendy tree-hugging back-to-nature hippies?  How could theypossibly be going to a yoga class?  They were young, attractive, even normal looking woman.  And wasn’t yoga about self-torture, and forcing yourself to do things that no normal person should do?  Wasn’t it about starvation, and fasting? Didn’t it involve speaking in fancy languages and levitating and other dark mystical acts?  They couldn’t have possibly said that they were going to a Yoga class.

Well, 90 minutes later, I found myself laying on my back, drenched in sweat like I had never experienced on any workout machine, and staring up at the gym ceiling, exhausted, drained, and yet more complete then I could have imagined.  This Yoga-thing took me to a totally different place than I had ever experienced happening with any type of workout.  But beyond the physical aspects, something was happening inside of my head.  I was confused as I was suddenly immersed in this moment of “feeling:” feeling my body working in harmony with itself as I connected different muscle groups together; feeling my body become a follower to the instructors direction rather than a leader on the gym machines; and more importantly, feeling empowered with a sense of calmness – like I could do anything.

I had to know more.

Over the next few months, I dropped in on many different studios and styles of yoga, and got to meet and learn from many different instructors from all backgrounds.  Now, while I recognize the value of diversity and different perspectives, I chose to make my home at Strala.  And since you are hopefully going to be leading me as I continue to learn more about myself and this yoga-thing, I have a few requests for you in dealing with me in your class:

First, I’m scared and insecure about myself.  I don’t look like you do, I don’t bend like you do, I can’t do as many boat poses or push-ups as you can, and I sweat like a pig.  But do your best to find something positive in me and what I’m doing on the mat.  It won’t be easy to find it, but keep looking – it will energize me and keep me coming back.  And by all means, please touch me.  Even if my pose doesn’t need correcting, at least put your hand on my back or my shoulder, encouraging me to relax and let go some of the tightness that comes with my movement.  (And by the way, my poses willalways need adjusting.)

Next, I’d love to tell you that my diet is spotless, but clearly that’s not the case.  I appreciate that yours is well balanced, and plant based, but I’m ok with you being mortal too.  I like you just a bit more when you let it slip that you did a shot of tequila last night, or crave a Chili Dog with Mustard from time to time.  Let me see a side of you that I can connect with – it will draw me closer to you.

Additionally, believe in what you are doing in your class – more than just knowing the sequence and the steps, feel it happening as you are guiding me through the routine.  I can take a cross-fit class at any gym, but I’m following you for your commitment to Strala Yoga.  If you are simply phoning it in, I’ll know, and I’ll start thinking about the Super-Sized Double Big Mac meal that whispers to me on the streets of Manhattan.

Further, I appreciate it most when you have a Point of View.  You are not going to scare me off by taking a stand on things.  I’m not going to judge you or think poorly of you if you stand behind your beliefs.  Talk to me and about me, and don’t be afraid to tell me if you think I need to fix something.  I’m not following you because there are no other yoga instructors in New York – I’m following you because you challenge my body and my mind together.

And finally, besides taking your class, nothing makes me happier than to see you practicing yoga in another Strala teacher’s classes.  Seeing your commitment to both your practice and to other Strala Teachers, and having my mat next to yours in class fills me with pride and gives me a chance to brag to others about you and how awesome you are.  I’ll love talking about you and saying how I knew you when you first started out.  I’ve got a pretty big mouth, so this could definitely help get things going for you!

I could go on for hours about how much I love yoga, Strala, and how proud I am to have watched your teaching career start out, but instead I should just wrap it up with a few simple words of encouragement.

Be confident but not arrogant, be strong but still human, be knowledgeable but open to learning.  But above all else, have fun with it – you have the best job in the world.

And remember that if you say something is impossible, say it quietly – so that you don’t interrupt the person that is doing it…

Your pal,
Todd