It’s my longest relationship to date. I have been teaching yoga for 10 years this year. Like any relationship, it has had it’s ups and downs, highs and lows, moments of contentment, pure illumination and sheer joy but also there have been times when being a yoga teacher has felt frustrating, exhausting and downright pointless. I have changed and grown over these last 10 years and so too has the yoga community.
Here are 10 things that I have learned about teaching yoga over the 10 years
1.THE SELF-CRITIC IS A USELSS A*HOLE. When you’re starting out as a teacher there may be a tendency to feel inadequate at it. This is natural because the more you learn about yoga, the more you realise what you don’t know. For me, this feeling of inadequacy didn’t hit initially. When I qualified age 23 years old, I simply didn’t overthink whether I was any good at teaching or not, I just cracked on at teaching what I liked and what I knew, to anyone and everyone. I hit the ground running and it was only when I became aware of my relative ‘success’ and reliance on yoga as my main source of identity, activity and income, did self-doubt and insecurity creep in. I hit that point around 2 years after qualifying. I was plagued with this feeling of inadequacy and of not being a good enough teacher but now when I look back to some footage of me teaching, I actually was pretty good! What a waste of time it has been allowing the inner critic to hold me back and giving myself a hard time all of those years! So I say, if you’re starting out just go for it! Teach what you have experienced for yourself. Teach what you know and trust yourself. What you lack in teaching experience, you make up with enthusiasm, heart, good intention and determination.
2. SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE. Trends and popularity in contemporary styles of yoga come and sometimes go. One minute Bikram is the hottest thing to practice (excuse the pun), then it’s Anusara or Jivamuti or Dharma mittra or Yin or Kundalini. Personally, I don’t have any preference in terms of yoga style. I have learned, practiced and I have taught as many ‘styles’ as possible over the 10 years rather than dedicating to a specific one. I have found that it isn’t always the most practical or useful approach to stay rigidly within one style, especially when teaching a diverse range of students. I have found it much more helpful to adapt my practice and teaching according to the circumstance. As Desikishar states, “yoga should fit the person rather than the person to yoga”. So instead of style of yoga I have decided that it is more beneficial to teach yoga in terms of tempo and intensity. more on yoga styles here
3. HATERS GONNA HATE. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, so don’t try to. Never confuse being a people pleaser with being an effective teacher. I used to feel disheartened if I felt like someone didn’t seem to like my teaching so then I would just sequence the class with crowd pleasers but I realised that this wasn’t doing any justice to the student, to me or to the practice of yoga itself. I also realised that sometimes whatever you do, you will never be some people’s cup of tea and that’s OK. It’s really important to feel comfortable with that and maintain trust in the value of what you know you are sharing. Trying to tread the safe and middle ground at the cost of your originality or inspiration can dilute what you have to offer and you can end up teaching uninteresting mediocre classes and ultimately pleasing nobody.
4. MAKE YOUR OWN OPPORTUNITIES. It’s wise to assume that no one is going to hand you anything on a plate. You have to graft and put yourself out there and create your own opportunities. I didn’t know the right people in any of the right studios, I just had to set up classes, workshops and retreats by myself. From there, opportunities subsequently did arise but I couldn’t have relied on this. Also, as your own boss you have to take responsibility for your own health care and healing and no one is going to give you a holiday or a pay rise so this is something you have to take the initiative to do for yourself.
5. INJURIES ARE YOUR BEST TEACHER. You could be the most empathetic person out there or you could have studied the highest level of anatomy and physiology. Either way, actually experiencing pain and injury for yourself first-hand is going to give you a fantastic applied understanding in functional anatomy. I’m grateful for my snowboarding injuries on my sacrum and rotator cuff. For pregnancy and postnatal recovery. For having shingles. For spraining my ankle, for straining my knee, dislocating my elbow, breaking my finger. So next time you’re injured, rather than feel impatient and frustrated about what you cannot do, instead get interested in what rehab and healing you can do. Not only will this help yourself but also all the students you encounter at some point that have a similar injury. More on injuries and yoga here.
6. TEACHER BURN OUT IS DUMB. Around 4 years into teaching I taught 4 or 5 classes a day for 6 days a week. I was cycling across the whole of London to make those classes, starting early, finishing late. When I wasn’t teaching yoga I was doing all the behind the scenes stuff that you do to run your own business, marketing, admin, planning, meetings etc and then practising yoga. I did this for around two years and I was absolutely exhausted. I did’t know how to say No. I couldn’t turn down a new client or job because I was so used to survive-mode that I didn’t let myself get into the thrive-mode. The money was great but I had been blind-sided. I was too busy rushing around working to notice that I was not valuing my time or my own health enough. It reached a head when I realised that I was more exhausted than my clients! It doesn’t make sense for an advocate of wellbeing to work too much! I started to learn to say no, let things go, turn things down, pass on jobs to other yoga teachers. I tightened up my schedule, worked only locally and finally put my prices up. Better for me and my students! My advice to anyone heading down that route…Learn to say no and recognise your value. Be efficient with your time and be strategic with your plans. Practice trust and cultivate an attitude of abundance rather than scarcity and then all else will start to fall into place. Let the universe provide!
7. JUST SHUT UP. If you haven’t got anything wise, insightful or relevant to say, don’t say anything at all. As a yoga teacher, it can be easy to fall into verbal queuing like it’s a script that you repeat class after class. I would know! I’ve taught over 5000 yoga classes and it’s difficult to not let your words go into autopilot. However, if you can resist that urge to fill in the gaps with the sound of your own great and technical alignment tips or wonderful prose on mindfulness, you can allow the student something more, a taste of their own insight. Let the sacred silence create the space for the student to have their own experience. More on this here
8. ALWAYS THE STUDENT, NEVER THE MASTER When you do your first ever yoga teacher training program, this is when you become a yoga student. It would be foolish to consider yourself as a yoga expert at that point. I have done an in -depth teacher training immersion every year and depite duplicating my certifications I have learned so much from each course. It is so important to be humble and always be open to learning. I’ve found that I have learnt so much about yoga from teaching my students. When you are teaching yoga, you have to step out of the way of yourself, so that your ego-self quietens and you can become a clear vessel for the transmission of the yoga teachings. When you are in this state, which I refer to as real flow yoga you reach your students in an intuitive and effective way.
9. SUCCESS IS BULLSH*T. How do you measure success when it comes to being a yoga teacher? Is it the teacher that has taught the longest or that has travelled the most or has the busiest classes or the biggest online followers? Is popularity a good measurement of success? Are earnings? According the ancient scripture, the goal of yoga is the cessation of mental fluctuation, so shouldn’t this be the yardstick of success when it comes to being a yoga teacher? The teacher that has mastered the calmest quietest mind… the teacher that is most enlightened? I would argue that fame and enlightenment make uncomfortable bed partners! If you’re a yoga teacher, surely it’s less distracting and so better to be famous when you’re dead right? So maybe actually the role of the teacher is not so much how accomplished they themselves are at yoga but rather how influential they are and effective at conveying the teachings. In today’s digital age there is no meritocracy when it comes to being a yoga teacher, you simply don’t need to be accomplished in the traditional classical sense in yoga. You may have an incredible heart, a dedicated practice and wealth of experience and wisdom and a whole manner of qualities and you may just teach one local class and no one may know who you are. This could be deemed less successful as a yoga teacher than the sexy, bendy yoga teacher that is great with a camera so has 30K followers on Instagram despite having taught yoga for 5 minutes. That’s why success is a confusing benchmark when it comes to validating your own worth as a yoga teacher so it is important to navigate carefully. More on social media and yoga here
10. COLLABORATE RATHER THAN COMPETE. It doesn’t need to be a dog eat dog world. Granted the yoga ‘industry’ has reached new commercial heights but from my experience the yoga community can be a safe haven from the capitalist ideology that has gotten this globe into this mess. I have found that if you consistently operate from the place of abundance rather than scarcity, rest assured you will always get the work and the opportunities and resources that you require and there is plenty to go around! I always am sure to pass on opportunities to other teachers if I can’t take them on and what goes around comes around. If another yoga teacher receives something that you longed for, don’t feel bad, you can’t get hung up on that stuff because chances are that, that opportunity didn’t suit your evolution at that point. Besides, it’s useful to reflect upon the roots of your desires regularly and thoroughly in this regard. Furthermore in this technological age, making connections with others is so important. The more you can share ideas and collaborate, the more rewarding and inspiring it is for all!