Tagyoga teaching

Interview: Mark Bonington’s Top Three Tips for Yoga Teachers

Interview: Mark Bonington's Top Three Tips for Yoga Teachers

Mark Bonington is the published author of ‘How to Start Teaching Yoga‘, reiki healer, barre teacher trainee, amateur opera singer, writer, social media marketing expert– is there anything he can’t do? But first and foremost he’s a passionate yoga teacher, with a lot to say! He’s also a YogaLondon graduate, so it was lovely to catch up with him.

1. When was the light-bulb moment when you knew you wanted to be a yoga teacher?

When I went along for the month’s intensive course at YogaLondon I didn’t intend to become a full-time yoga teacher – I was thinking it might be a side gig to becoming a copywriter. I did know that I’d had enough of the job I was doing though. On the first day, the course leader Rachel Perry got us in a circle and we all had to say the reason why we were here, and suddenly it clicked that this was what I wanted to do. That was a real lightbulb moment for me.

Another lightbulb moment was when we were first practicing adjusting people in the exam sequence and it dawned on me that it was about them and not me! It sounds obvious, but it was a real epiphany.

My final lightbulb moment was when I did my first cover class at PureGym and I was terrified, but I just did it, and at the end of the class, people came up to me to say I was good at it! That was such a boost and helped me commit to teaching yoga full time.

2. How important do you think social media is for a yoga teacher?

Social Media marketing was actually my area of expertise in my previous job, so the scary side of social media marketing such as the content and paid side of things was something I was already confident with. In fact, it’s what I wanted to get away from!

Like most things, there is a positive and not-so-positive side to social media as a business tool. In terms of a digital imprint and inspiring viewers, it’s pretty essential. But when it comes to comparing yourself to others and the sexualization of yoga, it’s not that great.

There needs to be a balance. Of course, in recent weeks in the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve found that social media has been an essential tool and through it, I’ve actually acquired new business. The thing is to make sure that it doesn’t get to the point where social media controls you, but you keep it is a tool that you control.

Interview: Mark Bonington's Top Three Tips for Yoga Teachers

3. What keeps you motivated as a yoga teacher?

There are three things that keep me motivated and the top one is definitely hearing feedback from my clients – just hearing that I’ve helped them feel a bit better is a massive reminder of why I do this – for that genuine connection with people.

Secondly, other teachers inspire me – Cat Meffan’s YouTube videos and musicaltheatreyogi’s guided meditations on Insta – they inspire me to take time out and be a student again.

4. You’re a yogi and a writer – do they work well together as a career?

They work really well together. Yoga is about connecting to other people through the body, writing is about connecting to others through the mind. I’m currently writing my second yoga book which will be along the lines of everything I wish I had known before I stepped into a yoga class – watch this space.

5. Does having a performance background help as a yoga teacher?

Definitely! I got into musical theatre at High School, and then at Uni up in Dundee I joined a local opera company – I loved it. It taught me how to project my voice, which when teaching in busy gyms is a real advantage. In the beginning, it also meant I could stand in front of a class of students and perform ‘being a yoga teacher’ – I wasn’t there yet, but my theatrical background gave me the confidence to command the room.

6. You’re studying Reiki, Barre, you’re a runner, a writer – what do all these extra things bring to your yoga teaching?

Barre teacher training has been great as a way of learning a new vocab about the body, as well as deepening my appreciation of the physical capacity of the body. The Reiki training has reinforced my focus on the prompts to focus on your energy and to direct it to where it’s needed. Every new thing I learn brings something else to my yoga teaching and keeps me inspired too.

7. With all your interests, courses and, jobs – what do you do to relax?

I love guided meditations. It’s a big part of what I offer to my own clients, and I love it myself. It’s great to be a student and to have a voice just telling you what to do. Especially in lockdown, I do one in the morning and one after lunch – which occasionally turns into a power nap, but I don’t tell my boyfriend that.

I would recommend The Honest Guys on YouTube– they’re so brilliant at guided visualization meditations.

8. What’s your go-to top yoga book?

I have two that I always use – [he reaches across, they’re literally right there] – they are The Heart of Yoga by T Krishnamacharya’s son, T K V Desikachar. He’s a big proponent of Viniyoga, which is an individual approach to yoga.

My other go-to book is The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark. It’s a great mixture of practical advice and spiritual discussion, as well as explaining Yin yoga, which has come more from Chinese Daoism.

9. What are your three TOP TIPs for newly qualified yoga teachers?Interview: Mark Bonington's Top Three Tips for Yoga Teachers

One, develop the right attitude – basically just get out there, throw yourself in the deep end, and get teaching!

Two, don’t work for free – people will ask you to, but stand your ground and know your worth.

Three, sign up for every cover group you can find and do them all – you’ll gain confidence quickly, attract potential clients, and rack up experience.

And a bonus top tip is to ask for feedback and reviews at the end of a class from students – it’s the best way to get noticed by employers.

10. How has yoga affected your relationships?

Yoga has deepened my relationships in a wonderful way. Yoga teaches you to become who you truly are, and not who you think you’re supposed to be. When I started my month’s intensive with YogaLondon part of that process was letting go of my old identity of PR Director and to just embrace being me.

And once you can do that it means that you learn to hold closer those that you love, and who bring you light and joy, and on the flip side, it gives you the strength to let go of relationships that aren’t good for you anymore.

11. How do you think the yoga world can attract more LGBTQ people?

The imagery that most people see of the yoga world is thin, cis, white women who can bend into gymnastic shapes, and men see that and think ‘it’s not for me’! But they’d still like to do yoga, so a 1:1 lesson means that they can have a go without feeling uncomfortable – a lot of my private clients are gay men.

There’s nothing wrong with the gymnastic side of things but it misses out on the yoga that’s more about a journey into the Self. And just doing the poses is an external, aesthetic thing that is more based on the ego. But the gay community also has a problem with the way that physical beauty is a massive issue – it’s been an issue for me personally.

Yoga has helped me to see it for what it is, as well as some great inspirations like @diaryofachubbyyogi on Instagram.

12. How has your lockdown been?

We managed to leave London and come up to my parent’s house in Fife, which really is in the middle of nowhere, so it’s been a real change. It’s also been a great way for my parents to get to know my boyfriend!

At the beginning, it was a bit bleak as I lost a lot of business and everything started to fold like a house of cards.

But it’s also meant that I’ve moved online, which was something I’d been meaning to do for a while. I started teaching lessons on Instagram’s IG TV and now I’ve got new clients from all over the world, so I’ll definitely be carrying that on going forwards. However, I will get back to in-person teaching when I can, as that personal connection and sharing of energy are so powerful.

Lockdown also meant I’ve started a newsletter, in which I interview a different yoga teacher each month – so that it’s not all about me!

13. What makes you cry?

These days it seems to be when I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the life that I now lead. Nightmares also make me cry – I have a recurring nightmare that I’m not a yoga teacher anymore but have a soulless job in an office cubicle…

Poppy Pickles

Yoga Classes in a Post-Covid World

Yoga Classes in a Post-Covid World

We’ve all seen the photos of the re-opened gyms in Hong Kong with perspex screens between each running machine. There have also been yoga classes with each student confined inside a plastic sheeting cocoon. It looks futuristic, other-worldly – and bleak.

On Tuesday, the government announced measures to further ease the lockdown from Saturday 4th of July – aptly Independence day in the States. There will still be social distancing measures in place, but these will now be reduced to ‘one-metre plus’ where two metres is not possible, and with the addition of face coverings, additional hygiene, and altered layout for indoor public spaces. However, gyms, swimming pools, and by default – yoga studios  – are not included in the businesses allowed to open from the 4th.

As disappointing as this will be for many, there is a (yet unconfirmed) rumour that mid-July is now set as the date. At some point, in-person classes will return. So let’s take a look at how yoga classes can operate NOW under the current guidelines – and IN THE FUTURE when the restrictions are lifted.

Ways You Can Teach Yoga NOW

Teaching Outside

With the ongoing uncertainty around indoor yoga teaching, outdoor classes could be an option.

Currently, the limit to any group gathering outdoors is up to six people from different households. This is with the proviso that you observe the two metre rule unless that person is from your own household or within your support bubble.

However, there are rules and regulations for teaching in a public park too (of course). If your class is free you won’t need to worry about that. But if you’re charging then you’ll need to get a license to teach. There are no standardised regulations for outdoor exercise licenses, so you’ll need to check your local council’s website for more information on their licensing rules.

It will of course be weather-dependent, and with the great British weather being what it is, it will be worth building in some backup plans in case you need to cancel. Make sure every attendee gives you a contact number so you can cancel at short notice. You’ll also need to have an online booking and payment system (this one, for example) to ensure that you don’t exceed the current regulation of six people and to avoid any cash transactions.

Teaching Online

Many yoga teachers made the move online within the first few weeks of the lockdown. Since then there’s been a steep learning curve as the technophobes among us have got to grips with new technology  – as well as some not-so-new technology! Both teachers and students have begun to adapt to the ‘new normal’, and some interesting advantages have emerged.

  • Classes can be flexible – with no venue to worry about, time slots can be changed as needed.
  • Students are learning to be more responsible for their own bodies as they get to grips with practicing at home.
  • Many more students have made space in their homes for yoga practice.
  • Many students have invested in yoga equipment, meaning that they can practice at home.
  • Teachers have enjoyed saving both time and energy spent on rushing to venues.
  • Apart from subscribing to online platforms, there are very few costs involved.
  • Your students don’t have to be local!

So, for now, there is plenty to enjoy about teaching online. However, there is also a lot that yoga teachers miss about the in-person experience. Some students haven’t made the leap to online classes and for them, knowing when we can teach in-person again is paramount.

How We Can Teach Yoga in the FUTURE

Practical Measures

Sticking to Legal Requirements – Guidelines are changing week by week, and the first thing to do before planning any move back to is to keep up to date with government and local council guidelines. You can sign up to get email alerts when the government puts any update on Coronavirus onto the Gov.uk website. Remember that in order to comply with your PLI (Public Liability Insurance), you will need to stick to the government’s social distancing policy and all other guidelines.

Pre and Post-Class Cleaning – If you own your own yoga studio, even if it’s a small cabin in the back garden, you will be responsible for adequate cleaning of the space before and after each class. Stock up on plenty of cleaning supplies and think about having a cleaning plan, such as focusing on high contact areas such as door handles. You should also keep a record of this cleaning, especially if you’re a studio owner. Students should bring their own yoga equipment wherever possible. Shared facilities such as toilets should also be cleaned as regularly as possible.

Class Hygiene – Both you and your students will need to practice increased hygiene measures, including washing hands before and after classes. You could also consider providing antibacterial wipes for students to clean their own areas. Hand sanitiser should be freely available throughout the studio/your class space. The movement of students during the class should also be reduced to avoid cross-contamination.

Social Distancing – Class sizes will need to be reduced to adhere to social distancing guidelines, which will involve pre-booked classes only. Once inside the class, you might want to think about marking out mat spaces using tape on the floor where this is possible. Physical adjustment of students is also not allowed due to the social distancing measures. You could consider getting the students to do their own physical corrections through demonstration.

Make sure you leave enough time between classes to reduce congestion in waiting areas. You might also want to have signs to indicate a socially-distanced queue system to enter classes, or if space allows, a one-way system of movement through the building – such as most shops have now introduced. Consider asking your students to arrive already changed to avoid excess time spent in the building.

Ventilation – While the weather is still warm it would be preferable to have windows open, as the use of air conditioning can re-circulate air, which could lead to the spread of infection. On this note, singing in enclosed public spaces is also prohibited as it poses a particular threat of spreading the virus. If you usually chant in your classes, then you could encourage students to sing silently in their heads, or you could play a pre-recorded version.

Face coverings also help to reduce the spread of airborne virus particles, and where possible, these should be provided. If you’re going to use these, they need to be put on before class, and not taken off till the class is finished.

Symptom Checker – The government slogan is currently ‘Stay alert’, which means that as a yoga teacher or studio owner you’d need to stay alert to the threat of infected students attending your classes. Make sure you remind students not to attend if they have any symptoms, or if anyone in their household (or extended bubble) has symptoms either. If possible, check students’ temperatures at the door using a remote thermometer.

Keep a record of everyone who attends classes so that you can comply with the track & trace system. Make sure you have up-to-date contact details for all students in case you need to cancel classes at late notice due to any risk of infection.

Think about Online AND In-Person Classes

When in-person classes can start up again there will be no guarantees that students will be ready to return to in-person classes. For many teachers and studios, an online and in-person hybrid will be the best business model until the new measures are normalised.

This means that you should be able to maximise the number of students able to attend. Consider offering bespoke smaller classes in-person, to be offered on top of your current online timetable. This means that those students who’ve been unable to do online yoga will be able to return to classes.

A Disclaimer

These are suggestions for how you might manage face-to-face yoga classes, but as mentioned quite a few times, guidelines are changing all the time. It might be that the social distancing measures are relaxed, on the other hand, we could end up heading back into full lockdown.

This situation has taught us that everything that we thought of as being normal life can change – and fast. So while we can do our best to plan for the future, it might also be wise to take it things week by week.

Poppy Pickles
For inspiration

How Do You Know You’re Ready for Yoga Teacher Training?

teacher training yoga

You love yoga. You’ve been going for a little while now, and you’re pretty sure that you’re quite good at it. You look forward to your classes and you daydream about being a teacher, with all the freedom and extra yoga-ing that that would bring to your life. But it’s a pipe-dream, right? WRONG! Here’s eight ways to know if you’re ready to start your yoga teacher training. (more…)

Poppy Pickles