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. KatyP says:

    Hi Tara, I’m so glad you found the article of benefit to you. Ashtanga can definitely be intimidating at first, both as a student and I’m sure as a teacher. Not only is there the sequence to learn/teach but also the rich tradition behind it. I sincerely believe if you teach from the heart though everything else will fall into place. It’s what my teachers do and they continue to inspire me to show up to the mat everyday. I hope you follow your heart and decide to share this great tradition with others 🙂

  3. 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).

  4. I've practiced taught Ashtanga for years, and through traveling to many cities and experiencing different Ashtanga teachers, I've noticed that the most important aspect of a good Ashtanga teacher is that they have their own Ashtanga practice and teach from the wisdom of their practice. As a beginner teacher, it'll be overwhelming trying to remember all the little details, adjustments, etc that you'll learn in teacher training, but once it settles in, really try to teach from what you've personally experienced in your own practice.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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.


  9. KatyP says:

    Thanks Alik! Yes, it is definitely overwhelming when you're in the middle of other students who are practicing the more advanced series, and even the full primary series. At first, I wasn't even aware of all of the different "series" too.

    Like you said, the individual practice of the teacher is the heart of everything and is the only way to pass the wisdom on to their students. I'm grateful to have two amazing teachers at my studio – both have incredible practices and they have shared their insight with me when I have hit bumps in the road. Some days I'm even lucky enough to practice next to one of them. That was super intimidating at first too, but now I cherish the opportunity and try to soak up their good vibes.

    Thank you for your kind comments and for passing this great tradition on to your students 🙂

  10. KatyP says:

    I love it Milos! "It will get better….or not, enjoy your journey anyway" – that is great! I understand your point about confronting the ego but I also think there has to be a little "give" at the beginning too. The first modification my teachers gave me was dropping my knees in chaturanga because I didn't have the upper body strength to keep doing all of the vinyasas through the seated postures and I quickly learned there are A LOT of vinyasas in this practice! I could have played to my ego and just "sucked it up" and tried to power through the series but by dropping my knees it allowed me to move forward in the series gently while continuing to strengthen my upper body without the risk of an injury. There is definitely a time and place for modifications though and sometimes you just have to work through the postures like you said. One of my favorite lines from my teacher was "It's coming…it's coming". I gained a lot of motivation that day with those words. Thank you so much for taking the time to read the article and for your insight!

  11. KatyP says:

    "All I want from my students is to commit to the practice and all will follow" – Yes! Definitely!!! I truly believe this and it was one of the main inspirations behind writing this article. As a new Ashtangi it really doesn't matter to me what level of certification a teacher has (beyond 200 hr) or how fluently they can count in Sanskrit. If I feel a connection with them, I will want to learn more from them and I will do this by showing up to their class day in and day out to soak up their knowledge. Sure there may be other teachers in town that have higher levels of certification or that have authorization but I may not have the same connection with them. As students and teachers we just need to be true to our authentic selves and like you said "all will follow". Much love <3

  12. KatyP says:

    Hi Karmela, I totally hear ya. I do believe students should learn Sanskrit but I was trying shed light that it is very overwhelming during the first few Mysore classes, especially when you're not even expecting it. I remember when I was stuck in the sequence one day, trying desperately to remember what posture came next, my teacher was across the room giving an adjustment to another student and she said "Katy, Utthita Trikonasana." I still stood there with the glazed look on my face because all I heard was "Uttsomething something". She then said "Triangle" and I was like "Oh, gotcha!". So yes, the language should not be discarded at all but I believe it should be "supplemented" with English in the beginning. That's just my perspective 🙂

  13. KatyP says:

    Mannu, I'm so happy for you! My goal of this article was to send some positive vibes to all teachers and hopefully make them laugh a little. I'm thrilled to hear your kind feedback. I think we can take ourselves too seriously sometimes so it's nice to just step back a bit and remind ourselves of why we are doing what we are doing.

    I love your perspective as a teacher that your students are your best teachers. As a student, sometimes I feel I could never repay my teachers for all they have given me so far. So to know teachers also learn from students is really cool. I know I may not be able to repay my teachers for everything but I know showing up to class day in and day out is the best I can do. If you find yourself being critical of your teaching, just take a look at your students and know they are at your class because they are connected to both you and your teaching. Even if they don't verbally tell you, the fact that they showed up to your class expresses this. Sending you so much love <3

  14. 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:)

  15. 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.

  16. Lori says:

    It is less intimidating if the teacher uses both the Sanskrit and English terms, I do this whenever I have newer students, it helps them to learn without scaring them away.

  17. 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!

  18. Helen says:

    Thank you, lovely post.

  19. Graciela says:

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