Inspira Yoga teacher, Sarah Highfield, wrote this article 16 months after qualifying as a yoga teacher. She has now been teaching for a lot longer than that, but new teachers may find this helpful:
I’m a mere two months away from my 18-month milestone of teaching yoga, (having qualified in September 2015), and in what feels like a very short space of time, I’ve learnt some important lessons about being a teacher. I’m not referring to the really obvious ones, which I had read about previously and expected, such as: You never stop learning, plan your classes in advance, don’t talk too much, speak clearly and be concise with your instructions, teach what you practise, don’t take it personally if a student doesn’t return to your class etc. There are already plenty of articles around pointing those lessons out. Instead, I’m alluding to the lessons I didn’t expect.
So, in no particular order, here are 10 lessons I’ve learnt as a yoga teacher:
1) Prepare for the unexpected:
When teaching privately, you know what to expect from your students. You know who is a beginner, who is experienced, who wants to relax, who wants to energise, who is injured, and which poses they like and don’t like. However, group classes are less predictable; maybe a pregnant woman will turn up, or a really old person, or a super-advanced yogi, or a child, or someone recovering from an injury, or someone with no body awareness or coordination. As a teacher, the challenge for you is to be accommodating and deliver an enjoyable class that suits everyone in the room. You need to know different variations (that are safe) for each pose, and be prepared to completely change anything you had previously planned.
2) Less is more for the students:
Students (and teachers) should be encouraged to leave their egos at the door – the class is not a competition. Some students feel pressure to perform the perfect asana (yoga pose) and are more focused on showing off how flexible they are rather than focusing on how they are feeling inside. Simpler classes can be just as effective as the more (perceived) advanced. If a pose is too difficult, students are not focusing on their breath or going inward – they are simply trying to get into the damn pose! I put teacher in brackets as it also applies to us, sometimes we only need to demonstrate stage 1 of a pose and not scare people off with something resembling a human pretzel. As Pattabi Jois said: “Yoga is an internal practice; the rest is just a circus”.
Network with fellow yoga teachers, Pilates teachers, personal trainers, wellness professionals, studio owners, yoga students, potential yoga students, people you meet while out and about and so on. Do this both online (via social media) and offline. You never know who you’re going to meet and how your paths might cross. For example: I work with Helios Retreats because I was chatting to the organiser’s girlfriend on LinkedIn, I work with Inspira Yoga Teacher Training because the teachers who run that trained me to be a teacher and we became friends, I’m giving a motivational talk and teaching at the upcoming City2Sand Yoga Festival because the organisers saw my Instagram page and I worked on a Yoga Dining Club pop-up because the organiser came to one of my group studio classes.
As a yoga teacher, you can do more than simply teach as there are many ways of earning an income within the yoga world. You can also work on yoga teacher trainings, yoga retreats, yoga pop-up events, yoga content writing, yoga talks, and yoga partnerships. If new opportunities come your way, don’t be afraid, try them all and see what you enjoy most. Within my first six months of being a teacher, I was already working with different studios, privately, on a yoga teacher training, preparing for a retreat, partnering with various yoga brands, and taking part in pop-ups and special events. I felt like I was working on a good cross-section of yoga jobs and gaining experience in every area before deciding where I would really like to focus my energy.
5) Business is business:
Just because I teach yoga, which in many minds is on the fluffy side of a serious profession, doesn’t mean that I flit from one yoga job to another without much thought. I have lots of spreadsheets to help me stay on track. I track my students, studio work, events, retreats, projects, partnerships, incomings and outgoings… pretty much everything. I set my own goals and deadlines, and I work hard to achieve them. Don’t ever get complacent and expect work to always find you, you also have to find (and maintain work) if you want to make a living.
6) Find time for your own practice:
You know how they say that chefs don’t cook big meals at home or stylists always wear black, well it can be the same for some yoga teachers. Finding time to keep up your own personal yoga practice can be demanding when you spend most of your day either teaching yoga or doing something yoga-related. There are times you can certainly feel all yoga-d out, but that is when you have to remind yourself why you do what you do and how yoga makes you feel. Don’t let your work take away the best part of what you love about yoga.
7) A one hour class isn’t just one hour of work:
A one hour yoga class doesn’t just take an hour when you factor in the amount time taken preparing for your class, answering emails and calls from potential students, updating your website, liaising with studios, organising your accounts and taxes, keeping track of payments, doing marketing and traveling. So yes, you may teach for an hour but a lot of time goes into making that hour happen.
8) Go easy on your students:
I am always easy-going with my students. The worst class I ever went to was a Yin yoga class around three years ago (I won’t mention where or who with) and the first thing that the teacher said to the class with a stony-face was “Do not speak at all during this class, if you have something to say, put your hand up”. She said this before she had even said hello. I then looked around the room and everyone looked scared. The teacher pretty much ruined the class within the first minute for everyone, she was far too strict and could barely raise a smile. You need to set the mood in the room, be nice to your students and help them feel at ease. Not talking during a yoga class is a given, but I don’t ever want my students to think they’re not allowed to ask a question or speak. They are there to feel good!
9) Allow students to practise their own yoga within your class:
When I’m teaching a pose, I always allow students to do what works best for them. That sometimes means that when I am teaching a pose one way, a student may have learnt to do the same pose a different way. I always assure students that it’s fine to have variations (so long as it’s not dangerous). This is most likely to happen during the sun salutations at the start of the class and in poses such as Trikonasana (triangle pose) and Parsvakonasana (extended side angle).
10) Don’t forget your Sanskrit:
While teaching, I always use both the Sanskrit and English names for poses. By integrating the Sanskrit names into the class, it means that I won’t forget them, and by using the English names, it means that the students know what I’m talking about.