5 Tips for Teachers from a Brand New Ashtangi. ~ Katy Planamenta

Via elephant journal
on Jun 25, 2013
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Yoga and I have flirted on and off with each other over the past few years.

As a former competitive athlete and runner, I would always crawl into a yoga class, literally, to help heal my broken body. One day I found myself in an Ashtanga Yoga studio and smack in the middle of a Mysore class.

I still have no idea how I got myself there, but that day has changed my life with a huge part owed to my amazing teachers.

So here are some tips to being a rock star teacher from the eyes of this freshly-minted, new, out-of-the-box Ashtangi.

1. Say “Hi”

Walk up to me on day one, introduce yourself and try to learn my name. Boom! Instant bonding.

Notice I inserted “try” into that sentence, because I, myself, am horrible with remembering names. But at least make the effort to learn it, because even if you get it wrong the next day, it’s totally cool. The mere attempt is all I need to keep reassuring myself that I am in the right place.

You see, I’ve just graduated from taking yoga at the local YMCA to walking into this strange Ashtanga studio and into my first Mysore class, clueless  about where to even start. Not only am I seriously questioning how on earth I got myself into this situation, but I also have two toddlers at home along with a business to run, and both are doing a great job of coming up with a million excuses for me to turn around and walk out the door.

So say “Hi”, flash me a smile and try to learn my name—it will dismiss all of my fears, doubts and insecurities, because I’ll know I am exactly where I need to be.

2. Save the Sanskrit for later

I’m not trying to buck tradition here, not at all, but the guy to my left is doing some insane jump back move, and the chick on my right has both legs wrapped around her head. As for me, well, I’m in between them trying to rock the series by touching my toes in forward folds on a $10 pretty blue mat my mother-in-law bought me a few years ago.

I’m a little overwhelmed right now and introducing a new language to me at this point is guaranteed to produce a glazed look on my face.

Talk to me in English, demo the postures and modifications for me in our native language for now, and I’ll promise you, in time, I’ll attempt to learn Sanskrit once my senses have calmed down a bit.

3. Speaking of modifications, show me the goods!

Please show me modifications, as many as you think I need and can absorb on any given day.

You have to understand—I’ve just walked through the door as a fairly new yoga student, so my ego is huge at this point. I’m thinking that if I just show up every day, in about a month (maybe 3 weeks if I work really hard) I will be able to look like the chick to my right with her legs around her head.

However, the ego only leads to pain, mentally and physically, and in due time, I will injure myself.

So when you see me doing something crazy in a posture in an attempt to keep up with the Joneses next to me, please come on over and introduce a beautiful modification to keep me safe.

4. Don’t try to be perfect, just try to be you.

I’m starting to catch wind of the different types of qualifications yoga teachers have—200-hour or 500-hour level, experienced 200-hour or 500-hour level, authorized or not authorized.

I understand the qualifications have their place; there is a certain level needed within the yoga community to keep students safe, but beyond a core foundation I really don’t care about any of the others. Seriously, I don’t.

What I do care about is your ability to teach to me. I don’t care if the lineage of this practice has blessed you with authorization or not or if you have been teaching since you were eight-years-old.

All I want in a teacher is for them to be true to themselves, to teach from their own experiences (both on and off the mat) and to teach from their own heart. That will inspire me more than any certification or authorization.

(Side note: I want to emphasize that I do appreciate the teachers who have achieved very high qualifications. I know they have worked their butts off to achieve them. The point I am trying to make is that there are also really great teachers who don’t have those certifications and authorizations and are doing a phenomenal job of inspiring students like myself to follow this tradition.)

5. Never forget how awesome you are in the eyes of your students.

I know teaching has its own set of difficulties and struggles. We’re all human and thus have good days (when we feel like rock stars) and off days (when we just want to crawl under a rock and hide from the world).

Just know that on the days you don’t feel as motivated to teach or to give to others as you usually do, step back and take a look at your class.

Head to the back corner of the room, take a gander and realize that all of the students in the room are there because of you. There are so many other yoga classes in town that they could attend, but they made the choice to take your class.

Why? Because you inspire them.

When the world is constantly pulling your students in another direction, they remain connected to something deep inside of you that motivates them to show up to your class day in and day out.

That connection is so deep and pure, resulting in an incredible student/teacher bond. It’s a beautiful relationship that compliments this beautiful practice.


Katy_Planamenta_HeadshotKaty Planamenta had an on-and-off relationship with yoga over the past few years until recently stumbling into a Mysore class and discovering her practice for life.  She doesn’t have any yoga social media profiles, a blog or website — she’s just a student with a daily Ashtanga practice under the loving guidance of Ally Ford and Sharon Denton at White Orchid Yoga in beautiful Clearwater, Fla.

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Assistant Ed: Paula Carrasquillo/Ed: Bryonie Wise


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19 Responses to “5 Tips for Teachers from a Brand New Ashtangi. ~ Katy Planamenta”

  1. Tara says:

    As a 3.5 year Mysore-Ashtanga practitioner who is seriously considering, what is to me, the terrifying prospect of teaching (finally, after being prodded in this direction by many people for years and now having been asked by my own teacher), thank you for this article. Somehow I find it a little calming and reassuring, and the prospect of teaching a little less scary. Thanks again, I'm so glad you love the Ashtanga, keep on practicing :-)

  2. Such a great post! I'm a Mysore Ashtanga teacher/practitioner, and sometimes it's hard to remember what a new Ashtangi is feeling. Veteran Mysore practitioners are so conditioned and confident, and when you get a bunch of them practicing the 2nd or 3rd series in a room together, it can be really really intimidating. I remember my first couple weeks of Mysore classes – although I had been practicing other styles for a while, I felt totally naive and scared.

    Keep at it though – Mysore practice can be extremely rich and rewarding, and can lead to a tremendous amount of introspection and reflection that simply can't be achieved in a class with background music and lots of talking going on (not that there's anything wrong with that, if you're into it).

  3. milos says:

    From my point of view everything you ve written is great except for lots of modifications so those can suite your ego at the beggining. Ashtanga is great because it confronts you to your ego and fact that some things you can not do (at that moment). So modifications are good when there is pain or injury but keeping trying when is hard and looks impossible – thats ashtanga yoga. In those moments my teacher sais “keep practicing and dont worry, it will get better…… Or not… Enjoy your jurney anyway”

    may peacful breath always be with you

  4. Yoga Solace says:

    I enjoyed reading your article, esp this part: "All I want in a teacher is for them to be true to themselves, to teach from their own experiences (both on and off the mat) and to teach from their own heart. That will inspire me more than any certification or authorization."
    I am a teacher and do my best to teach from my own experiences which is quite a challenge in the Ashtanga world. Many flaunt their certifications, sanskrit counting, and years of practice. As a teacher, all I want from my students is to commit to the practice and all will follow. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. Karmela says:

    ITA on everything except for #2. Sanskrit is the language of yoga. Learning yoga without knowing the Sanskrit names of the postures is exactly and 100% like learning ballet without the French language. Sure we can say, "put your feet together, turn your toes out and then bend your knees" instead of "plie," but it just feels wrong, not to mention inauthentic and dishonorable to the tradition. To all new students of yoga, Ashtanga or otherwise, I say to you — just embrace the Sanskrit. After all, you probably know and can distinguish linguine from spaghetti from ziti from macaroni, right?

  6. Mannu says:

    Hi Kate,

    I too am an Ashtangi. I have only been teaching for about 5 months now. I have never been happier in my life. It is very important to me to always remember that I'm not teaching because it makes me happy but because I have the chance to make others happy. I found your article very inspiring and I would recommend it to be read in every Teacher's Training.

    In my particular case I tend to be very critical and unforgiving with myself especially when teaching. (This is something I have been working on and I think I am overcoming slowly slowly. For this reason Point number five resonated with me especially.

    Even though my classes seem to be growing in students and I always get pretty good feedback, I tend to boycott myself. Only last week a student approached me at the end of practice to thank me and compliment my class. All I could think was: "so maybe all my other classes she has attended must have been so bad and finally she's liking one".

    But, that's me. Going back to you and your article. Reading it only inspires me to keep growing as a teacher. I think I have learned more about yoga since I started teaching than all the years before. I have my own teacher and I visit him and take his workshops every opportunity I get. However to my my best teachers nowadays are my students. For this reason I can only approach them, treat them and teach from a place of profound gratitude and respect.

    Thank you so much for making my night.

    Tomorrow classes (and probably most that come after from now on) will have a hint of this article in them.


  7. Maria says:

    Thank you. Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been teaching yoga for a few years and I always fund myself wondering, “what do the students ithink?” Your article gives an insight and indspiresst to teach more:)

  8. Stephan says:

    With all due respect, I think you and many of the commenters have missed the point. Learn the Sanskrit. Only use modifications when necessary, after diligent practice the traditional way, and practice for at least 5 years before coming to conclusions about the practice, and especially about whether you feel ready to teach. Ashtanga is taught through practice and experience. It takes time. Patience is key.

  9. Mr Tang says:

    Great article. I think I get your point which is talking to teachers about how a new student can feel initially and to me it's written i a fun way that's enjoyable to read with a definite humorous twist. Keep writing!

  10. Helen says:

    Thank you, lovely post.

  11. Graciela says:

    Excellent blog post. I definitely love this website.


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