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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  • Felicia Rebecca Wee

    I would come for your class, I feel overwhelmed if the teacher is too extroverted. I refer the calmness and inward light that comes from teachers and it sounds like you do that. I have been wondering though in your practice and for anyone else who may practice yoga and are highly introverted, do you ever feel that the practice sometimes takes a lot of our energy too with all the focus one needs to have in the moment for the asanas and the emotional self? When my energy is depleted I find it hard to get on my mat….but there are times where getting on the mat is so self healing. I know it sounds like i’m contradicting myself so just wanted to find out if anyone else feels this way sometimes….

  • Katia Grodecki

    What a great story! As a fellow introverted yoga teacher, I echo your sentiments. That ‘old speak’ tends to try to sneak its way into our minds at the worst times. All that matters is that we continue to learn on this path and that we move and speak with integrity.

  • ShannaNani

    As another fellow introverted beginning yoga teacher I absolutely recognize this. Next to my home practice I regularly take classes in a studio with other teachers and the variety is amazing. I do love the energizing effect of an extroverted, charismatic teacher, but I know I´m not that kind of person and will never even attempt to copy their style.
    I trust the people who continue to come to my classes will find what they need and what feels good for them with my personal style. Maybe that means I´ll never teach big groups regularly, or never be the kind of teacher people rave about, but that´s not something I´m aspiring anyway (and I don´t think it´s the aspiration of other teachers either).
    I´m still in the process of finding my unique voice and style as a teacher, but I do believe if you´re an introvert and HSP, be that kind of teacher and people who resonate with your style will stick.
    And every now and then, I´m going to drink up the bubbly from an extroverted fellow teacher 🙂

  • Christopher Young

    I like your perspective and I think you’ve hit on a fundamental contradiction that we find in the yoga community. How can we be in community with others when our practice is supposed to be individual? Every yoga experience ends up being a confusing dance of energy transfer that is at odds with one of these goals.

  • SKL

    I’m a college teacher and frequently wish that I were as extroverted as I perceive the most popular professors at my university to be. I think that my students – and myself – buy into the “a good teacher jumps on the desk” model epitomized by Robin Williams in “Dead Poets’ Society.” I worry that students want an extroverted entertainer instead of the qualities that my introversion brings.

  • I don’t want an extroverted yoga teacher. Yoga is about concentrating intensely on the internal and things like music (uggh!) and bubbly chatter are not conducive to that. However, I think your troublesome thoughts have much less to do with introversion and more to do with anxiety and lack of self esteem. Perhaps they often go together with introversion because people are too ready to criticise true introverts.

  • Stefanie Ezratty

    This resonated with me so much-as a yoga teacher & introvert. Thank you for sharing your truth!!!

  • Christina Cooper

    Love this post. Wish I could come to your yoga class.

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  • Banks Peacock

    I’m not sure extroverted yoga teacher is a contradiction in terms, but it seems to me that being an introvert is a big advantage for a yoga teacher. The nature of a yoga practice is to be able to turn inward and examine and direct oneself physically, mentally and spiritually.

  • Ron Robertson

    “Old speak, ” I can relate to. Yoga, not so much. But whatever the passion, it’s hard not to listen to those old demons. I still struggle.

  • Kaywess

    It’s not easy to find a brave article like this. I thank you from my heart for putting it out there!

  • Terese Graziano

    Thank you for sharing, I could have written this about my self (though much less eloquently). Reconciling Satya and Ahimsa has been difficult for me as well. Teaching others to open up their hearts and minds is daunting enough but clearing our own hurdles makes us more empathic teachers. Good luck on your journey. Namaskar

  • Ray Doraymefa

    Steph, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect being than you, for being a teacher–especially a yoga teacher. The two important things in teaching are the subject and the students; ideally, teachers step out of the way and let learning happen. Susan Cain has often written about the inspiring power of ‘core personal projects’ of which yoga is obviously one for you, and your writing’s attention to students shows a direction and consciousness that is sure to help them. I’m sorry you ever had the doubting inner dialogs that you describe. Congratulations on conquering them! Thank you for sharing your story.

  • I love this. As a fellow introverted yoga teacher, I very much have the same dialogue in my head. I find that when I can honestly share my vulnerability, my students connect with that most. And then I also feel like I’m speaking to the true essence of yoga. Thanks for sharing!