After practicing yoga for 2 years and studying for about half that time, this year I became an official yoga and meditation instructor and have been for 5 months now. Most of the time it’s been a super exciting and amazing feeling but at other times it has been a struggle just as much as any other lifestyle choice and change. It’s been one heck of a journey even with the past few months and so here are some things that I’ve already learned as a new yoga and meditation instructor.
1) The journey doesn’t stop with the certification. — A lot of students saw gaining their certification and status as a teacher as an endpoint. It was prevalent in many of my classes and a lot of teachers made it seem that way. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Gaining the certification is only the beginning of a long and lifelong journey that will impact you in ways small and large. You will always be learning, always growing, and always changing as your life changes around you and things happen to you as a person and a teacher.
2) Yoga teachers are people too! — We have many of the same issues, struggles, and challenges that we do our best to guide our students through. We are all in this together as humans and a teacher should recognize that in their daily life with everyone around them. By extension….
3) It’s not about ‘I’. — Taming your ego as a teacher and guide is critical. Dwelling in that place of ‘I am’ or ‘I need’ this in a class can hamper you as you get attached to feedback and seeing yourself as separate from the students you are supposed to be helping. Just as we remind our students to live and be in the present moment, we as teachers must remember that and that we simply exist for others regardless of what we attach to ourselves.
4) Everyone is different. — What works for one person may not work for another. Everyone is different and in a unique place physically, spiritually, and mentally and their poses, meditation practices, and mindsets are going to reflect that in every class. Therefore it’s best to be mindful and acknowledge that at points in your teaching.
5) Small classes (or cancelled classes) are opportunities in disguise. — For my first few months as a teacher, I would always get super anxious and depressed whenever I had a small class (which has happened and still happens a good chunk of the time). But as I grew and learned, I now see them as opportunities to not only still help and guide the individuals who show up but also to work on myself. Even if no one shows up, I still do the class or some variation of it as I need it to help and work on myself.
6) Planning things is acceptable and sometimes necessary. — Many teachers have this amazing gift to walk into a class with nothing prepared and teach something absolutely incredible. I admire those people but alas I am not one of them and I don’t know too many teachers on my level who are. Planning classes ahead of time was something I got into the habit of in my schooling and that remains the same even after completing my certification. Every class I usually have a page of notes or a book out in front of me. Some classes see me follow them to a tee whereas others I barely look at them. Either way unless you are super comfortable, skilled, and set with what you are teaching, it’s totally OK to plan it out and keep your notes and routines saved and stashed away in a safe place so you can return to them whenever you need them.
7) Don’t teach something unless you know it by heart or have researched it thoroughly and cued it yourself. — Several times in my beginning classes I’ve been in situations where I thought I was set to cue a pose in a routine but then realized I had never cued it verbally myself. It led to awkwardness, mistakes, misplaced words, and potential issues as well as loss of trust in you by your student. Therefore I highly recommend before teaching a routine / class / pose you’ve never taught before to cue it yourself in the privacy of your own home or leading a willing subject through it to work on your words and phrasing. It also helps in making sure your students’ bodies make it to the right place as you speak. Teaching yoga is one of those professions where having the right words and language is crucial and so if you don’t know it, then don’t cue it.
8) Consistency, consistency, consistency. — Keeping consistent and persistent with every aspect of your yoga life is essential. Everything from the way you schedule your classes, through the way you keep your own daily practice going, to the time schedule and recurring instances when you post on your social media accounts hinges on a dependable schedule for your students and yourself to follow. It will help you on both the short and the long term and while a little variation and random sprinkles here and there is certainly the spice of life too much will create chaos, problems, and uncertainty and won’t do anyone any favors.
9) Music in a class is awesome but more a situational tool than an absolute necessity. — Many people love music and many people don’t in terms of a yoga class. I tend to lean towards the middle and it’s best to think that as a whole. Music can and should be used appropriately in a class and it can ruin a great class if used the wrong way.
10) Timing is everything. — Each class has specific times for each pose, each transition, each portion, and each part of a routine. Time is essential to allow for your brain to adjust and comprehend where exactly a class is going to go as well as when and how a class will be best for given student. Thus it’s important to keep your sense of time alive and moving.
11) It’s OK to make mistakes. — Don’t take yourself too seriously as a teacher in a class. Even the most skilled of teachers make mistakes sometimes. Students will totally accept and be fine with it as long as you don’t make it too awkward or focus on it. If you do make an error (and you will), apologize in a light manner (not excessively to where your students lose faith in your guidance), address it, and then move ahead as if nothing happenned.
12) Work on yourself and your own voice as much as your students every day (and don’t copy others directly). — We have to work on ourselves as much as the students who depend on us and if that means taking a break or two to focus on your own practice and soul-searching, then that’s totally fine. It’s also very important to develop your own teaching style and classes. While it’s completely fine to find inspiration from and use tools from other sources and mentors, a direct copy isn’t going to do you any good and your students are coming to be guided by YOU not the person you are imitating.
13) Be prepared to work for free as necessary (at least at first). — A fancy-schmancy yoga position at a high end studio is not going to come immediately. It’s going to take time, energy, and effort as well as consistently working to put yourself out there and keep yourself available. Create your own classes for your friends, family, and others to come and attend as well as putting them out there for others too. These can range from free to donation or low charge for now but don’t charge too high immediately. A higher price is something that should be worked up to with experience, time, and clients.
14) Depend on your mentors. — They are there for you for a reason. Stay in touch with them, find positive groups to meet new people in, and come to them when you have issues or trouble. This can be personal mentors or mentors outwardly that you may not have met in person before. Read books by them, listen to audio, watch videos, and find inspiration from them daily.
15) Don’t forget to have fun! — Loving what you do and having fun with your teaching and your classes is of course 100% necessary. Remember why you as a teacher and guide began in the first place and don’t be afraid to add some humor, light-heartedness, and perhaps some soft laughter into your teaching and movement. It helps to create a strong community, a sense of playfulness, and will keep your clients coming back for more.
If you are a yoga teacher or a yoga practitioner, what were some of your realizations in your first year or two of teaching or practicing? Let me know in the comments! Until next time, ~Namaste!