March 16, 2016

Advice for New Yoga Teachers: Teach from the Heart.

Author's own (Ellie McMillan)

The minute I had my certificate in hand from my first yoga teacher training, I was jazzed to teach.

I was living in one of Canada’s most vibrant yoga cities and there seemed to be a new studio popping up on every street corner. The world was my oyster.

I did what most new yoga teachers do—avoid the places where I really wanted to teach.

You see, the thing with being a yoga teacher is that, before we are ready to come out of the “yoga teacher closet” about our teaching, we are our own worst enemy. We hide our true teachings for fear that they may resonate with the world (Gasp! Then what?). Because we feel that if we give all of our teachings away, we will be left with nothing else to teach.

For my first yoga teaching job, I applied at a little studio close to home that didn’t ask much of their teachers except to teach for 3 dollars per person. Usually one or two people would show up. It was a good thing I didn’t have to pay rent with that teaching gig. I digress.

I remember going to a studio where I felt out of my teaching element. It was close, in a hip part of Vancouver and there were some rock solid teachers. I did my usual thing of taking the owner’s class.

Her class was slow, methodical, and magical. I was all over it. I introduced myself and asked her if she had any room on her sub list (I already knew the answer was yes from an inside source). The first question she asked me was “How long have you been teaching?”

What do you mean, how long have I been teaching? Well officially about 34.5 hours, but I did just spend the previous 100 hours teaching in my training. She let me down easy, referring to a policy they had: all of their teachers had to have a minimum of six months of teaching experience.

I think of my life in terms of pre-yoga and post-yoga.

Pre-yoga I would have been crushed. How was she supposed to know if I was ready to teach or not if she didn’t even ask me to teach a demo class? Post-yoga I did what I knew best—I picked my ego up off the floor and kept looking for places to teach.

I spent the next year teaching anyone and everyone who would let me into their space. I got to know who my true students were and those whose vibe I just wasn’t feeling. I got clear on what it was that I taught and where I wanted to teach it. I showed up at teacher workshops and I went to my teachers’ classes to learn from them. I wanted to be a great teacher and I was willing to do what it took to be one.

But I carried this first (of many) teaching gig rejection with me for years.

Years later while I was in a room full of yogis listening to Tina Paschumati James speak about the welfare of our new teachers in the community she said, “Give new teachers a chance. Sometimes this isn’t their first lifetime teaching.”

At that moment, I felt like I had come home. I finally understood why I was ready to teach the day after training. And I knew why I had held on to that restriction for so long.

So my advice to new teachers is to stay on the course. Teach what you already know and teach it over and over again. Forget about trying to put yourself into a category or a style and focus on teaching what you already have in your heart.


Author: Ellie McMillan

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: Author’s own

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