10 Things I've Learned About Yoga From 20 Years Of Teaching
After 20 years of teaching yoga, I know that there are certain challenges that any new yoga teacher will face. I only wish I'd known this when I started teaching! I might have worried a little less and enjoyed the process a little more. Here are 10 things I wish I'd known when I was a newbie.
1. There will come a day when you'll start class and forget everything but your own name.
It's OK! You're human. When you feel stuck in front of your class, just breathe. Remember: fear is just excitement without the breath.
2. You will inevitably get into an argument with someone you care about right before class.
When that happens, give yourself a moment (in your car, in the bathroom, wherever) and let out an OM. Clear your energy, send love to the one you're struggling with, and leave it outside.
3. You'll teach the best class of your life and only two students will show up that day. (Or maybe none at all.)
Look at it this way: How lucky you are to have taught your best class ever to two people! It only takes one to be a teacher. And if no one showed, then you've just been given a dress rehearsal. The second showing will be even better.
4. You will work hard to prepare for your next class and the "wrong" kind of students will show up so you can't use your well-prepared sequence.
The only "wrong" kind of student is one who is not in front of you ready to practice yoga. (See number 3: at least you have people in your class!) Go back to what you know and teach from your heart. You can create a whole class just using sun salutations as a baseline.
5. You will teach a "bad" class (or think you did) and spend the next week ruminating over every little detail.
Know this: even a minute is too long. If there is something to learn from that experience, great! Yoga teacher Chuck Miller says that one of the best things about present-day long life expectancies is that we get to make more mistakes. Learn and let go, there is nothing that you can do to change what has already happened and chances are nobody noticed that you forgot the left side.
6. No one will thank you after class and/or many people leave abruptly.
You may experience that sinking feeling when you Namaste with your gentlest heart and it's not returned. It's like saying "I love you" and hearing crickets. Believe this: No Namaste is ever wasted. Thanks isn't always necessary, and when it's not offered, it's not a reflection of you as a person. Try not to internalize other people's behavior; instead give yourself thanks for the opportunity to teach.
7. One student will demand most of your time and you'll worry that you didn't give enough to the other students.
Your kind efforts will be recognized by the class, even if not immediately. They'll remember the extra care you took with the student who needed you most and they may even pay it forward through generosity with their own time for someone else later on. Keep the kindness revolution going!
8. Some students will do their own thing, and it will have nothing to do with the class you're teaching.
This can be a challenge, especially if they are endangering themselves or others. Use this as an opportunity to teach by advocating for their safety first. If they're just being creative (and not at risk of hurting others), simply acknowledge their freedom of expression with compassion and kindness.
9. Students will release any number of bodily noises that are normally reserved for a private setting.
You'll hear snoring in savasana, and all sorts of potentially awkward noises. Let this be an opportunity for humor; laughter is an indication that you and your students are breathing. Without calling attention to anyone, lighten the mood, light a candle if you need to quell a smell, and know that at the very least, your students will have a funny story to share. (And if someone is snoring in savasana, they clearly needed the rest that you provided space for!)
10. There will be a moment when everyone in class appears upset or bored.
Remember that you have no idea what's going on in the lives of your students. Perhaps the person who is yawning worked an overnight shift before your 8am class, but loves it so much that he or she had to sit in the front row. The mat is one of the best places to hash out whatever's going on in our lives, so consider that you may be providing that space for your students and be ready for what emerges. The only thing you can do is offer compassion in your teaching.
The bottom line? Teaching yoga is not meant to be another place in our lives to force perfection or unrealistic expectations. Forgive yourself and your students and try again tomorrow. By teaching yoga, we have accepted a sacred responsibility, but we're also allowed to mess up and admit that this job is difficult.
Finally, if you find yourself falling into self doubt or struggling with any of the above, continue to practice gratitude from a teacher's perspective saying to yourself: I am grateful for the class I taught because I learned …
Teaching yoga is a gift, not a battle. Please allow for a sweet and gentle evolution.