Compassionately and skillfully teaching yoga is an act of service.
By now, you’ve probably read a handful of articles or blogs offering advice, cautions, or encouragement from our more seasoned yoga-teaching sistren and brethren.
As someone going through the same thing you are right now, here’s what I have observed to be helpful:
1. Treat teaching the same way you treat your own practice.
Think back to when you first began to practice yoga. It doesn’t matter if you started out as a ballerina, gymnast, or karate master. There was at least one challenge that gave you pause when you first began to practice. In facing new challenges in our yoga practice, we ask ourselves not to judge where ever we are in this moment. Instead, allow yourself to be exactly where you are, and know it is whole, perfect, and complete just as it is. Do the same for yourself as a new teacher. Try not to attach yourself to the idea of what it should look like, or will one day look like. Absorb where you are now completely. Allow yourself to be a beginner again, this time as a teacher. Do not judge your own pace on your path. Give yourself over to it.
2. Teach as much as you can, to whoever wants you to teach them.
The more practice you get at teaching, the greater the amount and quality of service you provide. You will become better prepared and more confident the more you teach.
Something else will also happen: you will slowly but surely begin to turn off your “thinking” mind as you teach.
What I mean by this is that you won’t have to focus with the mechanical memory and planning side. The part of your brain that is keeping up with what pose is next, what posture cues should I give, how long did they hold this on the right, have we done three or four of those on the other side, are they on their right or left, do we have time for that one thing, what’s the sanskrit for that, etc; that part of your brain will still be working (we hope), but it will take up less and less space in your awareness to keep it working properly. The intuitive and compassionate part of you will be able to take the driver’s seat. You will be better at observing and responding to your students. You will be better at communicating with them. Your energy will be more calm, and your students will feel more comfortable.
3. Things might get crazy. Re-align your life as needed.
Not many people talk about the upsetting that can be caused in your life when you begin to teach yoga. I am not sure what truly causes it. Maybe it is the universe responding to your actions towards your new goal, and re-organizing the realities of your life as you augment your position.
Some people say your practice deepens with teacher training, and as a result you become much more sensitive and able to attune. Things that had been happening all along begin to affect you differently. I like to think that the responsibility to hold space for my students’ authenticity, compassion, and transformation has rattled me to step up and do the same in my own life with more vigor. The thing about that is, you build your life based on your habitual patterns. When you change your habitual patterns, other things are bound to shift.
4. Lighten up. Enjoy the ride.
If number 3 spoke to you at all, this one is especially for you. Have fun with this process. Be silly sometimes. Pick songs to play during class that make you smile rather than those that seem ethereal. Your beaming joy will create a better space than gongs and chimes ever could.
5. Forget all the rules.
This is your unique life. This is your unique way to unfold. Maybe none of my tips, or anyone’s tips for that matter, work for you. There are no rules. Maybe you want to incorporate some Tibetan Throat Singing lessons in your pranayama while you teach. Perhaps you like to stare deeply into your students eyes and get super close to their face while you give your posture cues. Maybe you want to whisper for the whole class. As new teachers, we just received so much information in our training. We are overflowing with other people’s ideas.
Trust your inner voice. Give it a microphone.
Judi Smolker began as a sandy-footed ballerina and butterfly catcher along the coastline of Los Angeles. She grew into a cracked nail polish yogi and local poet/open mic MC. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Anthropology, she scored a sweet sales job in a yoga studio. Shortly after, she became certified to teach. She now resides in west Orange County where she teaches, aides in a Physical Therapy clinic, and takes care of 2 fabulous dogs.
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Ed: Kevin Macku/Kate Bartolotta