I recently told my 4-year-old son the following, “son, I pray you fall in love with someone you call your best friend. I pray you both never cross the line and say mean and terrible things to each other, I pray you are not constantly apologizing for your bad behavior, I pray you will complement and enhance each other’s best qualities, and lastly, I really hope you fall in love with a teacher!”
A teacher? Of course, a teacher! I have always loved my teachers growing up. I never had one bad teacher. Teachers are caregivers and authority figures children experience separate from their own parents. Each teacher brings his or her unique love of learning and educating to the students. I was influenced so much by the vibe of teachers. And in the journey to my “career,” I became one myself….a yoga teacher.
A yoga teacher? Yes, a yoga teacher, which eventually led me to coming a ballet barre instructor. This all happened when, after a tedious and challenging few years of getting myself through law school, I rewarded myself with an entire summer off to become certified to teach yoga. Yoga got me through sticky times in my young adulthood, from soured relationships, to poor scores on my legal exams. It also kept my feet on the ground when I was flying high, whether from planning my wedding or completing my studies. Yoga was the antidote in my life. I cherished not requiring medication for all the different feelings I’ve had throughout my adult life; whether it was anxiety, depression, loss of focus, too much energy, or the run of the mill aches and pains, I always turned to yoga. The feeling of stretching and flushing out toxins, negative energy, frustration, while building strength and teaching myself how to breath, were all things I wanted to learn in more depth and, eventually, to teach.
When I say teach, my intention was teaching myself to grow deeper in my practice. I never actually thought I had what it took to become a full-fledged teacher. The training course was surprisingly more rigorous than I ever expected. We had lectures on musculature and anatomy. Multiple books on Patanjali’s 7 Limbs, hours and hours of lessons on yoga as an ancient practice, lots of Sanskrit to memorize, as well as in depth study on the history of yoga. Not to mention having to get up and teach in front of a room of experienced teachers who would critique your every cue and movement – it was no walk in the park. After the popular “Socratic” method law schools use, I thought I could handle anything, but yoga teacher training was a different animal.
When I was certified, I so wanted to frame my certificate and put it up on the wall with my other academic achievements. But the curious thing was that I hadn’t actually framed any of those, so it would have been odd after years and years of studying to suddenly have just my yoga certificate on the wall! But that’s how proud I was of that accomplishment – I became a teacher! A teacher with the capacity to help connect people to their mind, body and soul.
It was such a great feeling to have this tool, yet I had so much stage fright of actually teaching that I didn’t bother to look for any teaching jobs. After all, it wasn’t really supposed to be a career path, it was just a reward for myself. However, once my best friend Sarah learned I was a full-fledged teacher, she asked if I would give her a class. I was hesitant, but because of her sweet way, I agreed to teach her, and we held weekly classes in my parent’s house for a number of months. Sarah’s encouragement fueled my passion. I blossomed as a teacher! Albeit, I did not end up an academic teacher but a yoga teacher, but I was a dedicated yoga teacher.
Sarah motivated me. She got me my first teaching gig at a local studio called Enerji Fitness (now called Enerji Barre). My days became filled with yoga teaching and with continuing my studies. It was one of the most fulfilling times in my life. Even, choosing the playlist for my yoga classes was a fulfilling task. Every song was supposed to touch on a different feeling and inspire someone to give just a little more in a particular pose. It became like an art and science project for me. Through that experience I learned more about weaving together movements that were safe for the body and I even had the audacity to create my own “form.” However, this time, although deeply embedded in yoga fundamentals of which movements to do, this new form was all cardio, a totally different genre of music and all low impact and heart pumping, it was “ballet barre.”
Ballet barre is a blend of ballet and cardio exercises. It became its own craze though our town of Tustin hadn’t caught wind of it yet. The reason I knew about it was because I loved trying new workouts to enhance my yoga, and because I dabbled in ballet growing up, I gravitated to anything ballet and fitness. I came back to the owner of the studio after taking barre classes and said we needed to teach this. He said go ahead and teach it. Well, that required an entire summer (again) of learning different methods, extrapolating what I liked and didn’t enjoy about the varieties that were out there, and using my syllabi from yoga. I somehow pieced together my own barre manual and added my own flare to it.
To make a long story short, here I am 9 years later, teaching barre, not so much yoga, but attending yoga classes as a student. Enerji Fitness is now called Enerji Barre, and I trademarked my own style of barre called “Dance Barre.” The moral of this long-winded story is that the journey of my “career,” was full of unexpected turns and an array of important and unexpected teachers.
I thank my teachers, every single one of them, from preschool all the way through my graduate courses. Your styles, confidence, lesson plans, and values enhanced mine as a teacher even though we are worlds away in the genres we teach. I just want my teachers (the female ones in particular) to know that they had a large influence on me and such a positive impact on my life. I know that was very lucky, and I am extremely grateful to all of them.
I also thank my dad, who I am just now mentioning. But he is the one who didn’t pressure me to study for the bar exam right away. Instead, he listened to all my 101 excuses of why I needed a break from the law books to go study yoga and why he should pay for my teacher training. Thank you, dad. Your Indian heritage will live on through my deep love and passion for yoga, and you are just such a gem because to this day you still call my becoming a lawyer, a “hobby,” and that whatever I do, to treat it as a “hobby.” If that doesn’t take the pressure off, I don’t know what does. You are just such a gem.
Finally, I thank my best friend, Sarah. Her vote of confidence has never faltered. She is a true cheerleader. Always telling me to be greater, that I need to be greater, that I am greater. It is still so hard to believe you, but after all these years of friendship, you continue to push me to my greatest potential. Sarah, if it weren’t for your tight hips (ha!), I don’t think I would have been able to really learn how to teach someone to get through that. You allowed me to teach you, and now, I have not only taught students, but have taught other people to become teachers too. What a gift you gave to me, to believe in myself as a “teacher.”
For my son, a quick reminder to honor your teachers. Honor the strong, hard-working, compassionate and passionate people, inside and outside of academia. You will never forget a good teacher. You will always call upon them, whether it was because they were kind, patient, or they knew just how to teach something in just the right way. For me personally, I mostly remember my female teachers. I did have two male teachers that left a positive impact, but for all my years of schooling, it was the remarkable women that helped raise me.
I pray you too will be as blessed to have only good memories of your dear teachers in life.
Valentina Khan, JD, MA is the Managing Director for Investors Philanthropic. She was born & raised in Orange County, California. She grew up in North Tustin, a supportive and kind town to which she attributes her love for diversity & doing community work. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California Bachelor of Arts, received her Juris Doctorate at Taft Law School, & continued her education with a Masters of Arts degree from Claremont School of Theology. She is the visionary and co-founder of I Am Jerusalem, & was a contributing member to the Interfaith Youth Council of Orange County, both of which are non-profit organizations that focus on building bridges of understanding, compassion, and friendship within the interfaith communities. Valentina is the creator & teacher of Dance Barre ® a fun ballet barre fitness method, a yoga enthusiast, and lover of fashion and travel. She speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Farsi, Urdu, and (semi-fluency) French.