A man breezed into the studio not long ago.

“I saw this was a yoga studio and I just finished my 200 hour and I wanted to see what you have,” he said with some bravado. “Are you a certified instructor?” he asked.

“I am.” I say, casually.

“Yes, but are you 200 hour?” he persists.

“I am.”

“Are you registered with, the RYA or whatever it is?”

“I am,” maintaining my calm.

“We’ll what is your designation? Because I am a [proceeds to mess up the letters of designation].”

“I’m a 500 hour, ERYT.” I say plainly.

“Oh,” he pauses.

We proceed to chat; he begins to calm down and we have a polite exchange and even find a few people in the yoga community we both know. He raved about his 200 hour program, how much he learned, we talked a little about the one I’m currently a DIT (director-in-training) for and then he went on his merry way. I realized as we were talking, he was feeling a bit insecure. He just did this yoga program, got a piece of paper saying he’s a certified yoga teacher and then walked out of the studio and went, “Oh, crap! Now what do I do?” Much like a college student getting a bachelors-there is a moment of fear because the training wheels are off and now you must flex what you learned. It’s quite intimidating.

The term for this is imposter syndrome and according to Google is defined: also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism, is a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.

You might relate to this idea in your own profession or feel it as a student of yoga. I myself occasionally think, ‘why do these people listen to a thing I say?’ -it creeps into my mind as well. I was once told that a yoga teacher with tattoos seems more credible than one without. I don’t have tattoos *shrug* so I must be less credible of a teacher (if you believe this I will happily send you a list of all the tattooed teachers at MSY…no I won’t). Another time I had to say no to someone about something they were asking me to bend my ethics on and they told me (more than once) that I was “ruining the local yoga community” to sway me. Funny, the yoga community still seems to still be alive and well.

Did all those things shake my compass and make me second guess myself? Yup. Do I regret not getting the tattoo or going against my gut? Not for a second.

Truth be told, it wasn’t that long ago (within the last 100 years) common practice was the yoga student sought out their teacher and often the teacher would say no. This teacher might say no many times before maybe agreeing to take on the student. Then there was no certification, no abbreviations after a person’s name discerning their position. Maybe they wore robes of a certain color and shave their head, but that was about it. Maybe this is where some of that energy comes from. Lingering from years of needing to be deemed ‘worthy’ of getting to practice yoga.

Now, we are far removed from the renunciate tradition and use physical objects and money to qualify our level of experience. While money can be a motivator, it cannot purchase motivation. It’s a good thing too, because yoga is a discipline. Somewhere along the path this got flipped. We keep trying to add things to our practice, fancy mats and pants, but the practice is actually asking you for less.

Yoganand Michael Carroll’s definition of an advanced practitioner is someone who knows what they can do and shouldn’t do. I have clients who have been practicing for over 15 years and still keep a toe down in tree pose. Does that make their years of practice less valuable than the person who can immediately bring their foot higher on their leg in the first try?

Some of our imposter syndrome may come from outside noise, but ultimately when it shakes you, it’s because it’s getting in a little. Sometimes that can be a good opportunity for reflection, to observe yourself and see where you live with it. Turning over something in your mind can be apart of the practice so you can dissolve the story it made and move on. It might be a good time to talk to your teacher and see of they have anything they can offer from their experience to help give you more words or framework around what you’re experiencing.

If you are experiencing any degree of imposter syndrome with yoga, whether you are a beginning student, a student who has been taking for a period of time or a student who has been around for years, consider these 2 thoughts.

  1. All yoga students tend to have one trait consistent among them: they all have a curious mind. Embrace that and use it to fuel your practice so you always have a takeaway. This will help you grow and the building blocks of the practice will become more obvious. Journaling is a great tool here.
  2. Comparison in yoga is a toxic trait. It implies that you are either there to intimidate all the other people in the room with your yoga prowess OR you are allowing yourself to be intimidated by the other people in the room. If you remember to, ask yourself, Am I showing off? Are they showing off? Likely the answer will be no on both, but it can be a good reminder that you are there for you and they are there for them.

 At the end of the day, the person we have to answer to is the one who looks back at us in the mirror. That person is not an imposter, they are someone who is playing the long game and the long game is the yoga.