Freshly minted yoga teacher?

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(photo by Kham Tran)

I have a group of delightful teachers working with me in my mm…Yoga! business. One reminds me a lot of me, ten years ago. She qualified quite recently and has this infectious enthusiasm: she just feels so lucky to be teaching yoga for a living.She is also still learning what teaching yoga for a living really entails.We’ve both got flu at the moment. Poor thing, she was in tears when she called to tell me she needed the day off, saying she was sure she hadn’t been messing with her throat chakra but she was still sick.

‘In my first year of teaching,’ I replied, ‘I was sick a LOT. It takes a while for your immune system to get used to being around so many people and their bugs.’
Schoolteacher friends tell me they go through the same thing. It’s got nothing to do with throat chakras, really. Well, maybe a little bit. It does take a while to get used to talking that much, too. That comes with the job. You learn. Your voice gets stronger, just like any part of the body when used regularly.
It’s strange, how much you learn about teaching once you actually start doing it. It’s a bit like driving that way: when I got my driver’s license at 18, I really didn’t have much control over the car. Within a few weeks though, I was much improved. On the chaotic roads of Johannesburg, there’s no choice You drive well or you have a crash!
Teaching is a bit gentler: as long as you care and give people permission to honour their own limits (I find I need to remind my students of this several times during a class!) you are unlikely to have a crash. So to speak.
But nobody tells you you might sometimes feel wonky of health and tired of voice. Or that your joints might start hurting from the repetitive movements of demonstrating poses all day. Or that some people are just never going to understand your verbal instructions, no matter how clear they are, because they don’t have that kind of body awareness. Most teacher trainees practice on other teacher trainees, all of whom already know what they are doing. It’s not a true reflection of a mixed-level yoga class.
The list goes on and on.
Here are 12 things I wish I had know when I first started teaching:
  • Most yoga teachers can’t teach more than about fifteen classes a week without depleting themselves.
  • You need to allow for travel time between classes and count it as part of your working day: don’t let people con you into thinking those 15 classes are your total work time!
  • It can be difficult to stay of top of your admin when you are teaching so much: having a smart phone helps a lot because you can check and respond to emails during the day.
  • If you start your first class early and/or end your last class late, you need to give yourself time to rest during the day.
  • It can also be tough to eat well, because most yoga teachers work when everyone else has mealtimes. Cooking up healthy food in bulk once a week has always worked really well for me! I do it on a Sunday.
  • Keep learning: as a new teacher, you are likely to have weak points. Mine were that I spoke too softly, couldn’t mirror when demonstrating, and didn’t have strong anatomical knowledge. I’ve fixed them now. OK, OK, sometimes when I am tired, I still become inaudible. But I’ve educated my people to tell me to speak up!
  • Ask questions. I find that, in the beginning, teachers are afraid to ask their students questions because it might look like they don’t know what they are doing. It’s quite the opposite though: asking your students how they feel in a pose before you adjust them gives you valuable information on where they are at, and also helps them tune in to their bodies. It’s gold!
  • You are doing JUST FINE! You DO know more than your students: they haven’t been through teacher training, and you have!
  • Make sure to balance work and the rest of your life. Yoga is a passion job and it can be all-consuming. My mornings? Spent practicing yoga. My reading material? Yoga books and magazines. My friends? Mostly yogis. After a while it starts to feel like you are growing a yoga-shaped tumour. Any obsession is bad, even with yoga! I balance mine out with knitting, cooking, reading cookbooks, travelling and writing (about yoga, admittedly, so that might not count).
  • Don’t take criticism personally. Listen to it, learn from it, and move on. It’s not the end of the world if someone doesn’t like you or your style. In fact, it’s great: they are clearly not ‘your people’ and you want to find the ones who resonate with your message and your style so you can all grow together.
  • Make sure you have enough time off: at least one full day a week, so that you can recharge and keep hold of your sanity.
  • Your income doesn’t have to come exclusively from teaching. Get creative: you can write or work part-time in retail, hospitality, or your old job. You can sell yoga gear. You can organise events. You can manage a yoga studio. So many options!
Molto grazie, have a great week.
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