August 12, 2015

5 Things you Need to Know about Teaching Yoga Abroad.

yoga beach

Are you ready to teach yoga abroad? Are you sure?

Just like anything, teaching yoga abroad has its ups and downs.

In past, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching at some of the most beautiful yoga studios from North America to South East Asia. They all had the state-of-the-art yoga mats, expresso machines, showers, and beautiful fruit baskets or essential oils and jewelry.

And I loved it all.

But here’s the thing, it may not all be a five-star hotel when you teach abroad. You may not even able to teach the style of yoga you’re teaching now. And that’s where the real fun begins. How adaptable are you as a yoga teacher? Here are five things you need to know before you take that flight.

1. Speak in multiple languages. (well in a way)

When I first started teaching in Canada, I had a great teacher tell me that teaching yoga is like speaking multiple languages, in a way. She didn’t mean I had to speak Spanish, French, Chinese and English. She meant we use all resources we have to translate what we mean by “ground your feet.”

I practice this so often there’s not a day that goes by without me pointing at my feet, making a sound effect or yogic taboo of using blatantly judgemental words like “good” and “not good.” In order to teach a safe class, I use whatever means I can muster in that moment to make get a point across. When it comes to safety, the time to be polite is over. Make it clear.

2. You can’t always get what you want. (Or, let go of your expectations).

When I taught yoga in a studio, I had everything I thought I needed. I had a fancy laptop to check in students, the bathroom was always clean and smelled nice. Heck, I used to complain that our curtains were ripped a little and shabby looking. Well, when you teach abroad, you don’t have that sort of luxury sometimes. I teach in places where dogs continuously bark during my tranquil yin yoga classes, cats would play with cockroaches in the middle of the room, students bat at ants crawling onto their mats, babies are crying in the mother’s arms. Sometimes waves are too loud and I have to shout “now come to savasana and soften your breath!”

And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing because that’s real. It’s yoga entering into our real life. Not the other way around. It is the very thing I believe in: yoga exists to support our lives, not the other way around. It’s not the studio floor that’s sacred. It’s real life that’s sacred.

3. Sometimes you must say no. Respectfully.

Our understanding of what causes injuries or how we relate to our bodies may be slightly different depending on the cultures. I have a student who was told by local doctors that her back pain was caused by black magic and she needed to be cleansed. Locals take this sort of advice very seriously.

And yes, as a yogi, I too have considered blockages in chakras to be the cause of my gluten intolerance many a time. But there is a place and time for that. As a yoga teacher, this is a tricky situation. She is in pain and believes that yoga is helpful but without really knowing what is causing this much pain in the way I can understand (with western medical terms), of course I am hesitant to teach her yoga.

Even though I have suspicion of what might be happening to her spine, sometimes it is difficult to explain my hesitance. In cases like this, sadly, I learned to respectfully say no and continue to encourage her to go to other doctors. This is my way of taking a responsibility as a yoga teacher. When I believe further investigation is necessary for someone’s body, it’s my job to tell them so because no one else will.

4. Go for the win-win situation by trade.

You know how to do a pedicure? You can bring a basket of fruits? You can bake breads? You can clean my house once a week? I have learned that you can pretty much live off of trades. Sure, sometimes you do need to use money to exchange skills but most of the time, anywhere I go, people have special skills they can trade. My skill is teaching yoga. I see yoga changing the world every day but I’m also very aware it’s becoming more of a western luxury thing. So I love spreading this practice to people who never had a chance to try and exchange for something I need. It’s a win-win situation.

5. Don’t underestimate the sense of humour. 

Human beings are pretty much the same all around the world. We have different sets of belief systems, sometimes. But when we can laugh about something together, it creates instant connections. If you worry about whether it’s impolite to laugh about something, you miss that small window of opportunity for humanity.

Remember, when you’re teaching abroad, your common sense may no longer be all that common. You have to rely on all human one-tribe mannerism. You go back to what you learned in kindergarten. Be kind, be compassionate but laugh when it’s funny for both of you. The more I teach abroad, the more I realise western yoga culture is uptight. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t say God, don’t touch people like this, don’t drink water during the class, don’t get up in savasana.

Now, I stop the class to see the blue moon that everyone wants to see during warrior 1, or listen and watch the lightning across the ocean during savasana or let everyone pet the kitten walking across the room during yin. When we teach abroad, we go back to basic human forms. We respect the discipline of yoga and at the same time, enjoy life that’s happening all around us.

So go out there and teach if you dare. Your human senses might just wake you up.



10 Tips for Teaching Yoga Abroad.


Author: Tomomi Kojima

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Michael Pravin/Flickr

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