Quiet Revolutionary Steph Ruopp’s Story 

It’s a warm Thursday night at 5:30.

I’m sitting outside the yoga studio, legs crossed, taking a few deep breaths. The previous class is letting out. It was well attended.

The inner dialogue broadcasts throughout the metropolis of my mind. It’s a familiar broadcast as I hear it before nearly every yoga class. It’s something to the effect of, “Well, that was a popular class. Yeah, it was. The one after this will probably be popular too. Yup. It usually is.”

It seems innocent enough. Silly even. But if I allow, it could be damaging to me. I’m not a student preparing to enter the class, but rather the instructor. I’m also a card-carrying introvert. And the implication of this dialogue, a dialogue I created, is that my class will never be “popular” because I just don’t have what it takes.

Of course, the instructors who teach the respective classes before and after mine have personalities that could be described as bubbly, effervescent, and sparkling—descriptors equally well-suited for champagne. And students feel good in the presence of these affirming teachers, much as they would after a few sips of the bubbly. Naturally, they drink them up. And I get it. Hell, I love champagne. The teachers who sandwich my class are extroverts who meet the ideal to a tee. I, on the other hand, do not.

This is not to say that I am the polar opposite. I don’t spend my days closed off in my house, reading books to my three cats and making my own clothes—though, admittedly, that sounds like a damn good day. Nor do I cower in the corner, casting disparaging looks on students. And while there’s no disputing that I’m guarded in social situations, I am not what anyone would call soft-spoken. In fact, I can be rather loud and outspoken.

Early in life, I realized that I do not possess the “tell them what they want to hear” button that seems to come standard on others. I loved my inner world and being alone. I had few friends. Feeling shame around this as a teenager, I made the lofty commitment to “speak only the truth.”

Twenty years later when I began teaching yoga, I saw this commitment as a thinly veiled defense mechanism to shut people out before they could do it to me first. And what I was attempting to pass off as moralistic “speaking the truth” was far more often nihilistic “talking smack.”

This was not an endearing quality for a yoga instructor. And it certainly wasn’t going to draw students to this practice, which I longed to share. It took a while for me to realize the difference between being genuine and being unkind. It also took some time for me to embrace that popularity does not a better teacher make.

One of the beautiful things about teaching is how completely you have to put yourself out there and be willing to see where the cards fall. Not an easy feat for an introvert. Another is that it’s ongoing. And while I did receive my certification to teach, I don’t think anyone ever becomes a teacher. If those of us who call ourselves teachers are paying attention, we are just continuing students, moving constantly toward a keener sense of awareness. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can teach that. Popular or otherwise.

It’s a warm Thursday night at 5:35.

I’m still sitting outside the yoga studio, legs crossed, nodding and smiling now at the regular students coming through the door. Their numbers do not matter. What does matter is that many have been attending my classes for a decade. They embrace the highly sensitive and empathic person that I am. And they appreciate my honesty. It’s what resonates with them, and they prefer to have their champagne elsewhere.

Still, the inner dialogue continues. But it’s merely ambient sound now. Teaching has helped me recognize that it’s “old speak,” triggered by one of many memories of feeling singled out and unpopular at a time when I didn’t value being an introvert, being myself. And it rarely, if ever, troubles me anymore.

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