By Megan Winkler
When you stand up in the front of a class or – in my case – sit at the front of a class, you’re the expert in the room. The pressure to be perfect is almost permeable for teachers. The same is true for meditation teachers, even though our job should be totally relaxing. There’s a lot of responsibility to the experience.
We are charged with creating a safe environment for complete strangers to take a few steps on the path of their personal transformation journey. We have to deliver our guided scripts in a calm, soothing manner. And we have to be prepared for just about anything: tears, snoring students who fall asleep, the kickboxing gym right next door suddenly starting up their class, stern and doubtful questions from participants, or the guy who got dragged to class by his girlfriend who rolls his eyes more than a sitcom teenager. (I’ve had ALL of these things happen in my classes.)
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve meditated yourself, by yourself. When you sit in front of a class – or even post a video online – there’s a ton of pressure to be flawless, perfect, and utterly expert in everything.
But here’s the catch: I’m not perfect. In fact, although I teach people how to overcome their fears and conquer anxiety, I’m continually battling it myself.
A yoga instructor friend of mine once said, “I do yoga for my own sanity!” as she laughed and sipped her almond milk latte over brunch. I laughed along with her because I knew she got it.
As teachers – dare I say, experts? I hate that word. – we’re supposed to be the people who figured it all out. And yet, we haven’t! We’ve just figured out a few extra steps that keep us sane.
A few nights ago, I had an anxiety attack, right in the front seat of my boyfriend’s truck. It wasn’t a particularly crazy night on the road; we were going to dinner, and the weather was decent. And yet, I was suddenly struck with a heart-racing, pins-and-needles at the back of my neck, panicky feeling that I’ve now come to realize is what an anxiety attack feels like to me.
Ugh! I feel like a fraud just writing this out for you to read. I’m supposed to have this anxiety thing down pat. But you see, I wouldn’t have been led to meditation if it hadn’t been for my anxiety.
When I feel an anxiety attack coming on, I immediately turn to my training. I take note of all the ways I’m safe. I breathe. Oh, boy do I breathe! I feel the weightiness of my body: my arms, my legs, my feet. I start psyching myself out – “You’re safe. You’re healthy. You can breathe.”
And for me, that works. Would it work for you? I honestly don’t know. But after practicing meditation and mindfulness for years, it’s a fairly quick process for me. That doesn’t mean there’s not a recovery period afterward; there totally is! I was still shaky and in fight-or-flight mode for a couple of hours.
It wasn’t like the severe one I had in Las Vegas last year at the beginning of a Cirque de Soleil performance. That’s when I literally – I kid you not – was convinced the entire auditorium was going to go up in flames and there was no way I was going to get out of there or survive it. (I’m fairly certain there were no fire elements in the show.) I powered through, but oh man. For the entire 90 minutes or so of the show, I had to continually remind myself that I was safe and nothing bad was going to happen.
Even now, I fight the temptation to be critical about myself and ask something like, “Who the hell gets anxiety from acrobats and pretty streamers?!”
But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about living with anxiety, it’s that you can’t beat yourself up about it. Like many other conditions, you do your best to deal with it, practice a lot of self-care, and keep going.
And so, I’m coming right out and saying it: I’m a meditation teacher. I also have anxiety.
You know what’s funny? These days I realize that I’ve always afforded other people so much grace. To the sex expert who has problems in her own sex life, I’ve said aloud, “You’re the best person to teach it! You’ve lived it!” To the yoga instructor who is still uncomfortable going into headstand, I’ve thought, “Headstand is really hard. It kinda makes me feel better about my own hesitation to do it.”
But why, when it comes to me, do I struggle? Why do I hold myself up to a higher standard than anyone else around me? It’s just unfair. So today marks Day One of my unapologetic self-love journey. I’m going to proclaim that I don’t have all the answers. That I don’t know everything. And that I for damn sure am not perfect and shouldn’t expect myself to be!
Megan Winkler is a freelance writer and meditation teacher living in North Texas. She helps women lead healthier lives through her writing and classes. Her work has appeared in elephant journal, The Alternative Daily, and other publications. A collector of more books than she’ll ever be able to read, Megan makes a mean martini and is always down for karaoke night.