When I completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training, I skipped away with a light heart, ready to share with others what I had learned and eager to get some hands on experience.
When I look back at this moment, it brings a massive grin to my face. It marked the beginning of a glorious journey, yes, but if only I knew some of the fearful, awkward, and funny moments I would run into during my first year as a teacher.
Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned in my first year as a yoga teacher:
1. Lighten up!
When I first began teaching I had the tendency to take things way too seriously. So much so that part of my fun-loving personality was actually overshadowed. With time, I finally learned that you can respect the practice and still enjoy a good laugh at the same time.
In every class, I aim to make my students laugh at least once, and I might even manage to get them to crack a smile in Boat Pose.
And c'mon teachers, try to go easy on yourself — Did you say foot instead of hand? Head instead of bottom? Was the transition you created better in theory than in practice? Instead of beating yourself up about it not being perfect, just try to laugh it off.
2. Go with the flow. Seriously.
I used to arrive to class with meticulously designed classes, and I kept my notes close by at all times for fear of freezing up and losing my place in the dialogue. I realize now that I was in a codependent relationship with them! My big wakeup call happened when my first pregnant student walked into class unexpectedly, giving me no choice but to ditch my plans cold turkey.
So with sweaty palms and a racing heart, I took a few deep breaths to calm the nerves and silently asked my intuition for inspiration. What I ended up with was a creative flow that came straight from the heart.
Yes, there might have been a few silent and seemingly awkward pauses since this was my first ad-lib class, but I’m grateful that it happened. It taught me to embrace flexibility in my classes, and to look at my notes as a rough guide only when necessary. It also taught me to face my fears.
3. Leave your mat every once in a while.
This was very hard for me at first. Actually, I found it nearly impossible. It probably wasn’t until my sixth month of teaching that I finally wandered off my mat into the unknown, and yet I’m still alive to tell the tale! It’s good to incorporate some demonstration on the mat, but it's just as important to wander about the room to observe your students and give hands-on adjustments. You'll gain a different teaching perspective, too.
4. Don’t take it personally.
I’ve had students come and go, I’ve had students stay, and I’ve had some stay for a while and then stop coming. At first I took this to heart, torturing myself with thoughts of what I could have done wrong. Now I realize to not take it personally. Sometimes your energy might not jive well with everyone, and that's OK.
5. Don’t be a copycat.
I love getting inspiration from amazing teachers like Kathryn Budig and Elena Brower as much as anyone, but it's important to use their classes as inspirations, instead of trying to replicating them. You've got to find your own voice instead of just regurgitating another. In the long run, your students are showing up to be guided by YOU, not by a famous yoga personality.
6. Never pretend to know more than you do and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know.
If a student asks you something you don’t know, don’t pretend to know the answer. Just because you have completed a course doesn’t mean you are expected to know everything. Instead of pretending, just admit you don’t know. Tell your students that you will do some research and get back to them with the answer. They will appreciate and respect your honesty!
7. A good playlist can complement the class, but it's not always necessary.
I vividly recall being so caught up in creating the perfect yoga playlist for my first class. I painstakingly matched the songs down to the second to correspond with each stage of the flow. I threw in The XX, Alt-J, DJ Drez and a few Thievery Corporation songs, and after we set our intentions I cranked up the speakers. I now cringe when I think about how loud the volume was.
With time however, the music started to take a back seat. Today, if I do play music, it’s at a very low volume to ensure it doesn’t play a central role in class, as my intention is for my students to hear and connect with the sound of their breath.
8. Try not to be a perfectionist.
Instead of focusing on perfect alignment, first work on helping your students achieve a balanced Ujjayi breath. Talking your students through a perfect Triangle Pose means very little if they aren't breathing deeply.
Remember that the asanas are not the goal of yoga, but a tool. Patanjali describes in the Yoga Sutras that the only alignment necessary is to be comfortable, steady, and relaxed when in any yoga pose. This can prove rather difficult when a teacher is over-talking and bombarding the class with too many details of alignment.
9. Don’t feel guilty for making money.
When I first opened my studio, I was practically giving away my classes for free. I was barely able to break even on the rent, and some months I didn’t.
One day a yogi in the community reached out to me and suggested I should charge more for my classes. It made me realize that for some reason I had been holding onto guilt associated with the prospect of success. Shortly after that I started charging more, and guess what? More students started coming, go figure.
It’s OK to make a living doing what you love! You provide a much needed service to your community, and in return you are being compensated for the energy you lovingly share. If you are good at what you do, you believe in it and you’re passionate about it, you should expect to be rewarded financially — it’s karmic balance.
10. Remember your intentions.
Why do you teach yoga? What does yoga mean to you? Write this down and come back to it whenever you feel discouraged or lost.