Dear New Yoga Teachers

Congratulations!   I present to you the third graduating class of Yoga Inside Out’s 200hr yoga teacher training (YTT).

Gilbert, Patricia, Tracy, Zishan, Helen, Jessica, Saba, Manju (missing Dave)
Gilbert, Patricia, Tracy, Zishan, Helen, Jessica, Saba, Manju (missing Dave)

They worked hard and really rose up to the challenges that I presented them with.  In fact they are still working on their homework assignments and completing their exams in which they need 100% to receive their certificates.  However, these guys have earned their congratulations on completing all their contact hours.   I am always inspired by aspiring yoga teachers because they remind me of the first time I taught my first yoga class.  Even though 200 hours seemed so long, never ending and challenging, especially when you are in the thick of the training, it is merely a scratch on the surface of this practice called yoga.  I always remind new trainees that a 200hr program will only open the doorway to the many facets of yoga and the real training, learning, and growth always begins after the program ends.  The completion of a YTT may give you a certificate but it doesn’t mean the learning stops.  I see it as an invitation to further explore the areas of yoga that interests you because now you’re armed with a new set of lenses to now see the practice from a different perspective.

So to my new teacher graduates and all new yoga teachers out there, I encourage you:

1. Forgive yourself right now.  Whether you forget your left from your right, the next pose in the sequence or forget to show up for a sub you’ve agreed to teach, it’s inevitable that you will make a mistake. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Even the most experienced teachers make mistakes.  After so many years of teaching, I’ve learned that no one usually catches my mistakes and I am the only one who caught it.  Remember students will already have so much on their minds during practice that your mistakes are probably the last thing they are worried about.  Be there for them but do learn from your mistakes and improve each time you step into the classroom.  Along these same lines, it’s ok to not know everything.  Don’t be afraid to tell your students you don’t have an answer to their question but if you’re a caring teacher, you will go and research the answer and get back to your student.  A mistake or lack of knowledge is a great opportunity to learn.

2.  Be present.  I mean really BE PRESENT.  Come out of your head about getting everything perfect and see (literally!) your students.  Look at them with your eyes because their movements and how their bodies respond to your cues will guide you in guiding the class and what you will say next.  Let go of all the stock cues you’ve learned from YTT.  They are only guidelines and not meant to be recited for every class for every pose for everybody all of the time.  The knowledge you gained from YTT is only a container from which you draw your teaching from and the real teaching comes from who is in front of you that day.

3.  Embrace the jitters and the butterflies.  In fact these emotions are a good thing.  The feelings of nervousness remind us that we are present especially when we are about to embark on new experiences, challenges, and situations.  These feelings exist because there are some level of risks involved.  The risk of teaching a class is not the same risk you would experience if you jumped out of a plane.  However, the bodily sensation is of the same type.   I think of these feelings as new territory.  You don’t know who is going to show up for that class.  You don’t know how they are going to respond. You don’t know what you’re going to say or how you’re going to say it.  There’s even things outside of the classroom that you can’t control or will know what will happen that could effect your class.  All these unknowns are scary enough to also put butterflies in my stomach before I teach a class.  The days that I don’t feel any emotion before I teach are the classes that are flat, boring, and scripted.  I was not present for those days.  So don’t waste your time fighting the nerves… use them instead and convert that energy into excitement and passion.  One of my favorite quotes is “fear is excitement without breath.”

4.  Stop trying to please everyone.   As much as you want to shower your yoga love onto every student that walks into your class, you are not going to be everyone’s favorite teacher, nor the right teacher for everybody.  By all means pour your heart into your class but know that if a student walks out of your class or never comes back to your class is not your fault.  That student may not have liked your class, your style, or the clothes you wear, whatever the reason maybe, send them on their way.  In other words, don’t be attached to your students.  Teach what you teach and the students that need what you offer will stay.  Those that can’t find anything to learn from you will leave.  This doesn’t necessarily make you a bad teacher or a bad person.  There’s a fine line between catering to your students needs so they have a healthy practice and catering to the students you want to please because you don’t want them to leave or judge you is detrimental to your way of expressing your teaching.  Check your intentions and do always teach from love.

5.  Teach in chunks.  Don’t worry about teaching everything you’ve learned in YTT in one class.  Give your students time to get to know you and you to know them.   This goes back to “be present.”  Only teach what is relevant to your class at that moment.  If you come to class with an agenda or a prepared sequence, you may be attached to teaching everything that you’ve laid out even though your plans are not the best for the students that showed up.  You may have to chunk down your plans you’ve created.

6.  Practice, practice, practice.   Just as you would practice on your own mat to improve your connection to your body, practice your teaching. In the beginning it may be difficult to get hired to teach public classes.  Grab your friends, your family even kids to practice teaching to.  You’d be surprised how many people are willing to be your students.  Free yoga for them and lots of practice for you.  It’s a win-win.  The quickest way to improve your teaching is to teach yourself.  Start your home practice and apply what you learned from YTT on your own mat.  Your teaching will become a natural extension of your own practice.

7.  Teach even if there is only 1 student.   You wanted to teach.  You got on the schedule.  Now go teach even if one person shows up.  I don’t understand teachers who don’t want to teach if only one student shows up.  Whether there is 1 or 10 students, you are still a teacher.  Why wouldn’t you teach?  Yes, I agree that teaching a full room is more fun and boosts your confidence but if you’re just in it for the glory, you won’t last long as a yoga teacher.  As a new teacher, jump on those opportunities that give you a chance to teach.  This may mean you teach those odd times, early mornings, weekends, late nights, etc.  Put your time in and not only will you gain experience but you will start building relationships with some inspiring yogis whom you may never meet if you just teach the regular time slots that every teacher is vying for.

8.  Don’t judge your students.   See all your students as capable regardless of their size, shape, or fitness level.  As a teacher, you are an inspiration.  Empower your students to be their best and be their eyes of possibility.  Many students will come to the mat with limiting thoughts about themselves and their abilities.  If you can see beyond the veil they bring and help them see the potential in themselves, you will have a student for life.  Encourage them to tease a healthy edge in their practice.  Some students will not be willing to tease their edge if they don’t feel the teacher is supportive.  Also don’t judge your students facial expressions.  Just because they have a grimace, grumpy face or the look of boredom doesn’t mean they don’t like your class because if they come back to the next class and have the same look on their face, your judgement of their expression may limit you to really see them.

9.  Use your regular voice and be yourself.  There’s lots of talk and cliche in the yoga world about finding your authentic self or finding your authentic voice.  First off, the voice you speak with everyday to people around you is your authentic voice.  There is no need to speak in any other way to sound like a yoga teacher.  Secondly, be who you are everywhere you go.  If you are anything but the way you are outside of yoga during yoga, then you will have to somehow find your authentic voice and self and worse you’ll end up paying thousands of more dollars to find this voice and self.  The most authentic voice you can teach in is the voice you express when you’re having a conversation with your best friend.

10.  Have fun!  If you love yoga so much and have the desire to share it, it should be fun.  If you’re not having fun chances are you are putting too much pressure on yourself to become some imposed ideal of what a yoga teacher should be like.  My most influential and inspiring teachers were those who were not perfect and never portrays themselves to be.  They are human just like you and I.   If you have fun while teaching your students will also have fun practicing so step down from the pedestal, imaginary or real, and teach from your heart to your student’s hearts.

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