When I first started teaching yoga I was also working a full-time job that was mentally and emotionally stressful, and I used the classes I taught at the gym as an escape and stress-reliever. After a few months I began to CRAVE more teaching and in-turn dreaded going to my full-time job. I know that my experience is not unique. So when I quit my “job” to be a full-time yoga teacher I did it without any guidance or experienced teachers to lean on or talk to. I stumbled, I fell, I made mistakes and I learned many things the hard way…but I wouldn’t be where I am today without those lessons and because of that I am eternally grateful.
I have been a yoga teacher for 8 years now and I am at the point where I am seeing my long-time students now becoming teachers themselves! I am witnessing their growth as they go out into the world and learn lessons that I also learned during the first year of teaching. As a momma-bear I want to help any new teacher avoid some hard lessons that I learned the hard way just 8 years ago...but I know that isn’t realistic, nor should that be my responsibility. But I can offer my support and, should anyone need it, hopefully my guidance can be of some help.
So here are just a few of the lessons I have seen and experienced first-hand, which hopefully will give all you new teachers some comfort knowing that you are not alone and there are ways to overcome the obstacles you will face in your budding career.
Lessons new yoga teachers learn in their first years of teaching:
1. Demonstrating too much - If you are going to be teaching multiple classes a day and over a dozen classes per week you cannot realistically demo everything! You will wear your body out, you will be sore, risk injury and you will burn out very quickly! Also, on the topic of demonstrating for your classes, make sure you are being mindful of HOW, WHEN & WHY you are demonstrating. Remember to breathe and don’t only demonstrate everything on one side (or the same side every time) and not the other because that will absolutely lead to an imbalance and injury. Choose your demos wisely so they have maximum effect and you are conserving your energy.
2. Teaching the same class over & over - When we teach multiple classes in a day it is understandable to use the same sequences or inspirations in those classes so you aren’t spending all of your time and energy on reinventing the wheel. We can, of course, modify a sequence or inspired class according to class level, style or client needs! But I find that having a daily or weekly “theme” helps keep myself and my students engaged and enthusiastic. However, the problems arise when the exact sequence gets duplicated all week (or month) long. And believe me, we are all guilty of this at some time or another. If you have students that attend more than one of your classes in a week and you are teaching much of the same sequencing they WILL notice. Students will notice if your classes feel uninspired, stale or repetitive. If you teach a lot of classes and you want to work with a weekly theme or inspiration, just announce it to the classes so they know that you are doing the same things on purpose and with intention.
3. Spending more of your time driving than teaching - This one is HARD! Some people don’t realize that yoga teachers don’t get paid very much for public group classes at studios and gyms. Sometimes the pay doesn’t even equal the amount we spend on gas to get there!! BUT we need experience working with people and we need exposure, right?? Experience adds credibility to our resume and confidence in our teaching skills, but how do you get experience if you are turning down teaching jobs because of location? You add private clients on top of group classes (and any other job you may have) where you are traveling to clients homes or offices and before you know it you are spending more time in the car than in the classroom. Maybe this is why so many yoga teachers drive hybrids?? This lesson often needs to be learned the hard way…by experiencing the struggle first hand. But I have found that when you get very clear about what you want and need the Universe will make it happen. So sometimes we need to say “No” to a class that is too far away just to keep space and time open for that class that is coming our way that is in our ideal location. Our time is valuable and time is money, right?? Place value on your time and others will as well.
4. Neglecting your own practice - This is by far the biggest and hardest lesson new yoga teachers will learn, but in my opinion this is the MOST important area to discuss. Going back to #3 and looking at where you are spending your time. We have family, friends, children, jobs, responsibilities and just LIFE. These are necessary parts of us that we must tend to. However, if you are a new yoga teacher and are most likely driving all over town to get from class to client, etc. it can feel exhausting and overwhelming. We crave spending time in the classroom teaching so we seek out those opportunities and in turn maybe get to practice with our teachers once or twice a week…or sometimes we go weeks without time on our own mats and end up feeling as though we could throw a good old toddler-tantrum!! When we neglect our own practice (and trust me, it happens to the best of us) our students will feel the stagnation or lack of inspiration. If you are not practicing, studying, exploring and diving deeper your teaching will reflect it and your students will feel it. As a teacher we MUST put our practice at the top of the list and this is why a HOME PRACTICE is the best and most valuable tool we as teachers will use. A DAILY home practice will help us better relate and understand our students. We use that time on our mats to explore our own inner “stuff” and to work through our physical, mental and emotional “junk” so then we can go to our classes as a blank slate and hold safe space for our students to do their work.
5. Continuing Education - When we complete our first teacher training we are so excited to jump in and get to teaching. We are filled with inspiration, motivation, and ideas are bursting from our seams. Then we get to teaching for a few months and slowly we start to feel that clarity becoming foggy and we become exhausted from the schedule and then we come across students with injuries and physical ailments and conditions that we are not equipped to address yet. And we realize that we have to keep studying and learning. Teacher trainings aren’t cheap by any means and often we need to teach many classes over the first year or more just to break even. So the thought of spending more money on more trainings, workshops, etc. seems unrealistic. However, that is the best way to keep your education growing. Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open to all opportunities to learn new things. If you feel the pull to learn something specific, research and explore your options and set those intentions firmly. I have even found wonderful workshops online for a fraction of the price because it was recorded. Also, these additional trainings and workshops will add to your credibility and may even help to guide you in a direction toward your specialty or expertise.
6. Sub Sub Sub!! - This is the #1 way that we get maximum exposure at studios or gyms that may not yet have an opening to give to you. If at all possible, do not turn down an opportunity to substitute a class…even if it is in a style that you are completely unfamiliar with! When I was a new(ish) teacher I subbed an Iyengar-style class for 5 weeks while the teacher was traveling. Now, I am a vinyasa flow teacher with little-to-no experience with Iyengar outside of my training with Lisa Walford with YogaWorks. So this was completely out of my comfort zone. But it was an opportunity to get exposure and add money to the bank, ya know? So I did my homework, I picked the teacher’s brain before she left and it was a great 5 weeks! I stayed true to myself, I was honest with the students and I gave the best Iyengar-style classes I could give. Still to this day, 6 years later, some of those students remember those weeks with me and tell me how well I did in a style very different from my own background. So my point is, step outside the box and grab those opportunities to sub when you can because that is how you will gain followers, long-time students and even private clients! Also, ask to be put on a sub-list and if you are a reliable and consistent substitute teacher and students like you, you will be at the top of the list when studio owners and managers look to add classes or fill spaces when other teachers leave.
Yoga teachers are in a unique industry - we make our careers what we want it to be so many teachers will not fit in any specific category such as fitness, spiritual, healing, etc. - and we often have to learn things through experience and trial-and-error. Just knowing that we are not alone on this journey can be a comfort to others that are just now starting on this path. If you are a new teacher, make sure you have your support group of other teachers to lean on, call on and hug often! That is the best way we can keep our sanity! Take care of yourself so that you can better serve others.