Seven Lessons from My First Year As a Yoga Teacher
It's been just over one year since I received my 200 hour yoga teacher training (YTT) certification! As with anything, we learn a lot in our training, but we learn even more after. Below, I share seven things I learned in my first year as a yoga instructor. If you're new to teaching yoga, I hope that these help you navigate as you start your teaching journey. If you've been teaching for a while, maybe these lessons will sound familiar!
1. Stay True to You. There was a time when I considered learning to teach other styles and types of yoga. Not because I really wanted to personally, but because I had this notion it would increase my class sizes. Maybe it would, but what is the point of teaching something (in this case, a style of yoga) that I’m not passionate about? I realized that if I taught a different style just “because”, I would be cheating my students AND myself. Yes, it is important to learn about and try other types and styles of yoga; maybe we will be drawn to a style that we didn’t know about or think we would like. But if you don’t enjoy taking a yin class, you probably won’t enjoy teaching one; and if you don’t enjoy teaching it, your students probably won’t enjoy taking your class either. As teachers, we don’t need to conform or teach other types/styles that we don’t truly enjoy. It takes away from the love of teaching and can lead to a quick burnout. Appreciate all styles of yoga, but stay confident in your own teaching styles and abilities, and above all, stay true to you.
2. Its OK if Somebody Doesn’t Like Your Class/Style. I love having new students in my classes, but I also get really nervous. I’m mostly nervous that they won’t like the class I have prepared. One morning class, I had quite a few unfamiliar faces in front of me. I was so nervous that my class would be different from other classes they had taken. I considered teaching something completely different and coming up with a sequence as I went (totally not my style). I decided that was a terrible idea, and I proceeded to teach the class I had planned. Guess what, most of them loved it! And, there are a couple people I haven’t seen since then. Don’t change your class just because you don’t think students will like it (or be able to handle it). First, that’s limiting your students’ potential - they could surprise you (and themselves)! Instead of changing an entire sequence, provide modifications to make that sequence more accessible to them. At the end of class, that student may decide that your style of class isn’t for them. And that is 100% OK! There is a type of yoga for everybody, but not everybody likes every type of yoga, and not everybody has to like your class.
3. GO FOR IT (& stop overthinking)! I had taken classes where the teacher mirrored the students (they would say “step your right foot forward” while they were actually stepping their left foot forward). No big deal, until I started teaching and realized how incredibly challenging that would be - I mean, I had a hard enough time keeping my rights and lefts straight to begin with! I knew that *eventually* I wanted to be able to mirror the class. I thought about it a lot and talked about it a lot, and thought about it some more. But it came down to just doing it. I started one of my classes with mirroring on my mind. When I got students into the first pose I realized I had gone the opposite of what I said…but I WAS MIRRORING CLASS!! My first instinct was “oh, crap!” Then I quickly decided to go with it - and I did, for the rest of class. Yup, I messed up along the way, but I did it...and continue to mirror class to this day! Get out of your head and go for whatever your *it* is, you got it!
4. Shake it Off. One time I got so caught up on a mistake I had made at the beginning of class that the remainder of class was filled with mistakes, leaving me feeling less than great after class. Alternately, there was another class where I had my lefts and rights all backwards for seated supine twist, undoubtedly because I was mirroring class, and my students were all over the place. With confused faces looking back at me, I laughed and apologized, chalking it up to lack of caffeine (which was true), and told them to do the opposite of what they had done on the previous side. The rest of class went without a hitch (and we all got a laugh in). The scary thing about teaching and going for it (see No. 3) is that you are probably going to mess up at some point. You may call out the wrong side, or the incorrect name of a posture, or you may forget to repeat a pose on the opposite side. Its OK, you are still a good teacher! Correct it if you can, laugh it off (I find it particularly helpful to make a joke about it if students call out my mistake), and keep moving. Holding onto a mistake or being too hard on yourself for making one will throw off the rest of your class.
5. Your Personal Practice is More Important than Ever. My personal practice was the first thing to go when I started teaching. It’s funny how that works. The thing that drew us to teaching, is the first to go. Life gets busy and it is REALLY easy to say “oh, I’ll just roll out my mat tomorrow”. Well, tomorrow can be a long way away. My personal practice not only made me realize I wanted to be a teacher, but helped me de-stress, find physical and mental strength and harmony, and made me feel better overall. I missed a lot, personally, by losing sight of the importance of my personal practice. I also realized that I can’t help others through their personal practice if I’m not continuing to move through my own. How can we expect others to show up on the mat if we aren’t showing up to ours? (Side note: your personal practice is a great way to come up with ideas for future classes!)
6. Keep Learning, Always... Yoga is the first thing where I haven’t thought, “I don’t need to learn anything else” and that is exciting! But after YTT is over and you start teaching (in addition to everything else that is going on in life), it’s easy to not have time for learning. Our books are probably with our personal practice, waiting for our return. But when we learn, we grow! And when we grow, we can provide new resources to our students to help them grow! Learning can come in many different forms so don’t limit yourself in how you learn. Learn from your students - did they not quite understand a transition? How could you word it better next time? Learn from other teachers - what is your favorite thing about how they teach and how can you incorporate that into your classes/style? And of course, don’t forget about books, online courses, and in-person training. Find what works for you and keep growing!
7. ...but You Don’t Need to Know it All. I remember the first time a student asked me an anatomy question. Honestly, I was not sure what they were talking about and I got incredibly nervous because I knew I didn’t have the answer for them. After frantically overthinking what I would say back, I responded with “I’m not sure, but I can look into it for you...” Guess what, they were fine with that answer! When we become teachers, it is easy to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have the answers our students are looking for. Be honest with your students if you do not know the answer, they will appreciate it. And when you do find the answer to their question, you will have the answer the next time a student asks.
The most monumental thing I learned this year is that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE teaching. I am eternally grateful to all of the things that led me to yoga, and for each and every student that walks through the door - because without them, I couldn’t be a teacher.
Namaste (on my mat),