Feeling fear when teaching yoga is nothing new. One of the personal challenges you may experience as a yoga teacher is being faced with self-doubt and questioning many different aspects of your teaching. This isn’t a topic that many teachers speak about (but it’d make for a great coffee shop conversation with a group of your teacher friends). Some of this is mitigated as you gain more experience but many of these fears can crop up anytime.
Here are some common themes you may have experienced and different ways to consider each:
1. I don’t have enough experience to teach yoga: There’s been a lot of focus lately on the background of yoga teachers, especially as it relates to yoga injuries. Is there a connection between the experience of a yoga teacher and the risk of injuries in students? Maybe. But there’s nothing that says you need a lot of experience to teach a challenging, inspirational yoga class. However, when you’re a new teacher, it’s helpful to offer poses that are accessible and easy to modify. I remember in both of my teacher trainings, students who were asked to teach basic Sun Salutations completely inspired me with the clarity of their instruction, their ability to build connection with the class and their courage to speak from their heart.
The best way to get over the fear of “not enough experience” is to teach as much as you can. Pick a sequence, stick with it, get really comfortable offering it and speak clearly, succinctly and from your heart. For other tips, see my earlier article Ten Steps to take before Teaching Your First Yoga Class.
2. I can’t do a number of the more challenging poses: If you can’t do some of the more challenging poses, like arm balances and inversions, you may feel like you’ve got less to offer than another teacher who can. This is completely untrue. Yoga classes can be just as challenging when the postures are more fundamental and inspiration can come from any source, not the least of which is the teacher’s ability to build connection with the class. (I remember reading an article in Yoga Journal about a teacher that taught class from his wheelchair).
The best way to mitigate this fear is to practice yoga. As teachers, we often build up our schedules and don’t find time for our own practice. Just as you’ll struggle with poses, your students will too. There are great lessons in this experience both as a student and a teacher. Challenge yourself in your own practice and remember that what you offer your students is much more than the actual pose; it’s an opportunity to breathe and connect to their body.
3. My classes aren’t big enough: Class size is a factor that can raise fears in teachers, regardless of years of experience. You may feel inadequate and insecure if your classes are small. Once you start focusing on the size of your class, it can get in the way of your teaching. Rather than focusing on how many students are in your class, focus on doing your best. Really look at your students, offer them modifications, give them instruction that is personalized, give them hands-on assistance and speak words of inspiration that are from your heart, not regurgitated information you read somewhere else. Stay after class to answer questions and ask them to come back. These are things you can control and actions that will illustrate that you’re committed to helping to make their experience the best possible. You’ll also go home knowing you did your best. This often will translate to increasing class size and students that will seek out your classes.
If, over time, you’re concerned about the size of your class, seek out the studio owner and discuss it. Get one of your mentor teachers to take one of your classes and give you feedback. Find a teacher that you admire and ask them for suggestions. Track the attendance in your classes on your Teaching Spreadsheet (be sure you have one of these). The idea is to be aware of the data but not to let it get in the way of your teaching.
4. I don’t know enough about classical yoga philosophy: Yoga is a multi-layered system. Yoga teachers know that the poses we present in class are only one dimension of the practice and that there are many other aspects to yoga itself. Some teachers may feel insecure about their lack of familiarity with Sanskrit, the Sutras and other classical yoga texts.
Know that for your students, starting with breathing and moving the body is the most essential thing and for many, the primary reason they are there. Find ways to learn about the components of yoga you don’t understand. Take time to read, take courses and look for sessions at conferences that will expand your knowledge. These are all steps you can and should take to become more familiar with these other components of the practice. However, have faith that your classes that focus on the essentials of asana will be a great way to stretch your students, both in their bodies and minds.
Fear is often the basis for many of the blocks we face as yoga teachers. The best way to get past fear is to move forward, despite the butterflies in your stomach. Speaking from the heart, doing your best and taking time to be open to learning are keys to moving beyond the fear of teaching to a place where you feel more confident and secure. Knowing that fear is part of life is also a recognition that will help you manage those feelings when they come up.