How can we ensure that we are the best yoga teachers we can possibly be?
Just as we need to take care of ourselves and our students, we also need to take care of our teaching career.
From the early days of enthusiasm and energy, through to the later years of keeping it fresh, every phase of a yoga teaching career has different challenges and pitfalls. But by treating your yoga teaching practice as you would a student – with care and attention – we can ensure that we continue to love and enjoy our chosen career path.
How can we take care of our teaching?
The number one step is to ensure that we look after ourselves first – physically, emotionally and mentally. We need to ensure we don’t keep going until we get to burnout. Using up too much of our fiery energy, without balancing this with re-charging our batteries, will lead to total exhaustion.
In order to avoid burnout, we need to start by making informed decisions and choices every step of the way. Do we really need to take on another class? Can we implement termly classes, giving us a break from teaching? Are we taking enough time to rest and recuperate?
Another important part of taking care of our teaching is taking care of our sadhana or intelligent practice. Real yoga practice isn’t a box-ticking exercise of repeating the poses every day. According to B. K. S. Iyengar, sadhana is ‘not the mechanical repetition merely of yoga practice’ – it is a yoga pilgrimage.
Taking care of our teaching and our practice goes hand in hand. If we don’t give ourselves time to grow and progress on our own yoga journey, we won’t be able to guide others with wisdom on theirs.
A simple step to taking care of our yoga teaching is to teach in a safe, light environment.
The British Wheel of Yoga advises ‘Taking all reasonable steps to ensure a safe practice environment’ for our yoga teaching. Of course, we can’t all be lucky enough to teach in a bespoke, fully-equipped, light and airy yoga studio. But the environment we teach in makes a difference to our mental state – and therefore – our teaching.
In “Light on Yoga”, Iyengar advises that asanas should be ‘done in a clean airy place, free from insects and noise.’ Teaching in the middle of a big city such as London means that finding somewhere free from noise can be a challenge. The lovely, light, airy studio I teach at in South East London is serenaded by a constant blare of horns or shouts drifting up from the busy road below. However, the clean space makes up for the noise below, and I find that when the students are concentrating, the noise recedes into the background.
If you’re teaching in a community space, take time to get there a little bit early to sweep up, or adjust the temperature in the room. If the space is really grotty ask yourself if it’s time to move the class to a better space. Even better, put together a long-term plan to build your own yoga studio in your home or back garden, giving you the ultimate say on what your teaching space will be.
The British Wheel of Yoga advises, ‘seeking the information you need to teach your students in an informed way. This includes asking for information about the level of students experience, physical capacity, and health. It also includes observing students as you teach, and adjusting your teaching according to your observations.’
As yoga teachers, we have a duty of care to all our students. We are trained to teach safely and responsibly, but do we give ourselves the same duty of care? If we don’t, we should.
Make sure you attend CPD Days, advanced courses and workshops. Keep your teaching challenging and interesting for you – and then you will ensure it’s the same for your students.
Being prepared for lessons means taking the time to plan your lessons intelligently, making sure that you keep track of all the lessons that have gone before. That way you can make sure that you progress your students and don’t let them get stuck in a rut.
Taking care of your teaching includes class management. This is a key element of being a yoga teacher, which doesn’t come easily to everyone. We all know a really strict teacher, they’re fierce and uncompromising and no one steps out of line in their lessons. Then we think about our lessons…
Do you have students that stroll in late? Students that start telling other students what to do? Students that don’t pay attention when you’re demonstrating or adjusting them? Of course you do.
And because you’re a nice teacher you don’t tell them off, but managing these students can sap your precious energy as a yoga teacher. If you’re spending an inordinate amount of time give a persistently late student separate instructions, so they can warm up before joining in with the rest of the class, it might be time to take them aside at the end of the class. Gently tell them that if they’re more than 15 minutes late it might be best if they don’t come at all because it’s not safe for them to miss out on the warm-up part of the lesson every time. Sound harsh? Think about it from the perspective of your other students who are coming on time…
Part of your responsibility to yourself, and as a teacher, is to be honest with your students.
The Money Bit
As yoga teachers, we don’t like talking about the money-making aspect of our career, but for many teachers, money is an important driver in how they structure their teaching career.
Do you feel financially satisfied with your yoga teaching career? If you’re not earning enough money, or you’re just covering the costs, this can be another substantial drain on your yoga teaching.
It’s important that our yoga teaching is able to pay its way, and hopefully, end up making us more financially secure. There’s no getting around the fact that in our Western society, money equals value, and if you’re not earning enough money from your chosen career, it can make your question your value as a teacher.
Write down a figure of how much you need to (or would like to) earn. Go back to your accounts and work out how you could achieve this figure, either by increasing your class fees, increasing student numbers, or adding extra weekly classes or one-off workshops. Then decide how long you’d like to give yourself to achieve your dream figure. Now you have a plan! Even if you don’t get to that magic figure, at least you’ve given your yoga business the attention it needs to up the amount you earn.
The ‘Confidence in Yourself’ part
Are you confident, self-assured and satisfied as a yoga teacher? Or suffering from imposter-syndrome, tentative and dissatisfied?
Most yoga teachers are somewhere in between these two camps. The main reason for feeling a lack of confidence is through the trap of comparing ourselves to others.
Do you criticise and question your own yoga teacher? The answer is usually ‘no’. We trust our yoga teachers to safely guide us and challenge us through their own experience. We need to place that same trust in ourselves.
One thing that you can be absolutely sure of is that there won’t be any other yoga teacher like you. Only you bring your unique mix of personality, background and your own hard-won understanding of yoga to your classes and that’s why your students come back, week after week. Part of being a good yoga teacher is modeling self-acceptance. So start today, and watch your yoga teaching career go from strength to strength.