Have you ever taken a teacher training?
If you have, you know what happens on the first day of almost every teacher training ever.
You go around the room, say your name, your background and why you want to be a yoga teacher.
It’s a sweet process, everyone is nervous and excited and barely listening to each other because they’re worried about what they’re going to say, and maybe they don’t even realize that they all say the same thing.
Most everyone in teacher training wants to teach yoga so that they can be of service to others.
To help. It turns out this is a very good reason to be a yoga teacher, just ask Cyndi Lee who says the same in her book, May I Be Happy. So, you’re in the right place, you want to help.
You become a yoga teacher, and then… well, it’s not that you forget you want to help. It’s just that you may be scared as heck, or really wanting to teach a great new sequence, or the person who shows up for class 10 minutes late has kind of a nasty attitude and suddenly, you just don’t know how you’re supposed to even get through your sun salutations, much less actually teach these people anything.
And this is where it gets sticky, because you still have to teach these people. Even more than that; you have to tap in to your own compassion, and you have to love them. Sometimes that means you have to completely change your class plan because the beautiful back-bending practice you had planned is just not going to work for the class in front of you full of sacroiliac injuries, tendinitis of the shoulder and herniated discs.
Sometimes being a compassionate teacher means putting your own ego aside. Actually, it always means putting your ego aside.
It isn’t really “your class” it’s “their practice.” All teachers use this phrase “my class.” You may call it that, but keep in mind that your students are showing up for one reason: they want to do yoga. I love to teach with anecdotes and funny stories that tie in to yogic philosophy, but there is a fine line between teaching by example and seeking attention. Your stories should be general enough that anyone can relate.
Some of your students might not be nice people. Honestly, are you always a nice person? Don’t judge the person who always shows up cranky. They’re showing up. Just because you’ve read the Bhagavad Gita doesn’t mean you know everything. In fact, you know nothing about this person’s life except that they take yoga. So good for them for showing up, be nice to them. The cranky person in your class wants an adjustment in Savasana just as much as anyone else. And who knows? It might make them less cranky.
Your students don’t expect you to be perfect. It’s okay to mix things up sometimes. Everyone does—even the best and most famous of all the yoga teachers. Part of being graceful and compassionate means just admitting it when you say the wrong thing or don’t know something. You’ll get bonus points for admitting you don’t know something and then researching it so that you will know the next time.
Finally, don’t worry if they all like you. They won’t all like you, no matter what. Every yoga teacher wants students to return to their class. Not only is that your livelihood, it just feels good to know that what you’re putting out there is being picked up. But, not everyone is going to like you. I have been lucky enough that anytime I’m sitting a little too pretty I have been sent a teacher in the form of a student who just absolutely can’t stand the class I just put together for them. The one I thought was great and everyone else thought was great. And those students have not been afraid to let me know it.
Sometimes you have to pull up your big girl Wonder Unders and just get over it. If you get caught up on the ones who don’t like you, you’ll miss the ones who do. Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given as a teacher is this: Teach as yourself, and your students will find you. Don’t ever be afraid to be the beautiful gift of yourself just because someone out there won’t like your class. There are teachers you like, there are teachers you don’t like, you are no exception to this rule.
If you can remember all this, and keep your eyes on the people in front of you, you are well on your way to being a successful teacher. Congratulations, and don’t forget to breathe!
Elizabeth Crisci is an ERYT-500 who teaches Vinyasa yoga in Fairfield County, Connecticut and has been practicing yoga since childhood. She has had the good karma to study with many brilliant teachers, and teaches in the Kaia Yoga Teacher Training Program. She loves her work, her friends, her dog, and her mat. She is grateful every day to her students and teachers for making it possible for a big-mouthed girl from sleepy Connecticut to adore her life so thoroughly and work in her dream job. You can find her at ecrisciyoga.com.
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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger