Teaching yoga for one year is no small feat.
A few weeks ago, I took a yoga class with a teacher I’d never encountered before.
It wasn’t a terrible class; it wasn’t a great one either. The sequence of poses was clunky, and the instructor was trying a little too hard to make a weak class theme work.
When I rolled up my mat after savasana, I overheard the teacher saying to another student that he had recently finished his teacher training. My attitude softened immediately as I remembered my own first forays into teaching yoga and realized I’d been teaching yoga almost a year to the day.
Later that evening, I went to a party where the host introduced me to another woman who had just finished her yoga teacher training. She asked me about my experiences as a new teacher.
It felt strange to be the one dispensing advice—at the studio where I teach, I’m still the least experienced yoga teacher in terms of years teaching, and I guess I never left behind the teacher training mindset of having a lot more to learn from other yoga teachers but not much yet to share.
When you think about it though, teaching yoga for one year is no small feat. If you have just one weekly hour long class, that’s 52 hours—more than two consecutive days—spent in front of a yoga class, having an idea of what you’re doing but still working on finding your own teaching style.
Here are the five most important things I’ve learned during my first year of teaching yoga:
You’re probably going to screw up at least one thing in every one of your classes. Forever. Not just in your first few months teaching. The music will go wrong. You’ll say elbow when you meant foot, You’ll have planned out a 60-minute class when the time slot is 75. Just go with it.
Music cut out? It’s a great opportunity to get more comfortable with silence. Gave the wrong cue? Look at your students. If they look confused, reassess. Offer to demo. If they understood what you said despite being tongue-tied, just let it go and move on. Chances are, if you move past it gracefully, your students will have forgotten about your mistake long before they hit savasana.
2. Have a plan.
Some teachers waltz into class without a notebook, ask for requests and string together a lovely class based on everyone’s needs that day. I can almost guarantee that she or he has a plan for the class, even if it’s just a fuzzy mental outline. There’s nothing more terrifying than looking at a class of students and having no idea how you’re going to fill the next hour.
One day you’ll forget your notes, freak out momentarily and then go teach a class based on the outline that you remember. It may not follow your plan exactly, but it will all come together. And from that day forward, you too will be one of those teachers who appears to waltz into class and make it up as you go along.
3. Be ready to abandon the plan.
I once had a woman come into my slow flow class who was four months pregnant and had never done yoga before. That’s true, not a yoga teacher training urban legend.
When you’re teaching a drop-in class, anyone with any number of physical restrictions might show up, so have a plan but be ready to change it at a moment’s notice.
4. It’s not about you.
When you’re taking class, the practice is for you and your body. When you’re teaching class, the practice is for your students. Maybe you’re really stoked on your new found ability to hit pincha mayurasana (forearm balance) without falling on your face and itching to share that with someone else.
If your students are on that level, by all means go for it. But unless you’re teaching a roomful of advanced super-yogis, chances are a more appropriate arm balance challenge is going to be introducing crow (bakasana). Save your pincha party trick for your yoga friends outside of class.
5. You have a lot to learn and a lot to share.
Sometimes people are surprised that even though I’m a yoga teacher, I still take yoga classes. Don’t be that person. You can gain something from every class you take, whether it’s a great asana sequence you’d like to borrow from or a better understanding of what you’d never want your class to be like.
At the same time, still being a student doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything worthwhile to share with your students. Maybe right now in your teaching career you can’t weave a cohesive theme through the class without seeming forced and awkward. I sure can’t.
If you’ve dedicated yourself to your practice enough to become a teacher, you have something worthwhile to share with your students.
Not every class has to be the mind-blowing, soul-shaking experience that made you want to become a yoga teacher in the first place.
Sometimes, a simple reminder to slow down and breathe is enough.
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Editor: Michelle Margaret
Image: elephant journal Archive