It is rare to encounter someone who is satisfied with their profession. As a yoga teacher, I’m enthralled with mine along with the various subjects it allows me to explore: philosophy, literature, anatomy, history, and the list goes on. Plus, teaching in a variety of environments gives me the chance to get to know wonderful people I otherwise may never have met.
My job consists of teaching yoga classes, presenting workshops, managing a studio, recording yoga nidras, and writing articles. At the end of the day, I’m personally satisfied by teaching wonderful, curious students, and helping them in any way I can (like helping someone break through her fear of inversions as she presses up into her first headstand, or listening to a student share how his yoga nidra practice has had a transformational impact on his life). I feel fortunate that this is my job. And sometimes I wonder, How did I get here?
During teacher training, I had some amazing life-changing experiences. I absorbed the love and support of the teacher training environment. I got to participate in some of the most creative and challenging yoga classes I'd ever taken and hang out with my new-found yoga friends. Yes. This is where I wanted to be. This was what I wanted to do. The graduation ceremony was bittersweet. It was exciting to officially be a "yoga teacher," yet I was sad that I would no longer see my buddies every other weekend. We said our farewells, and promised to meet up soon, but meeting up never happened.
I felt overwhelmingly unprepared to enter the world of teaching.
And then there I was, sitting in my apartment, wishing on stars for the opportunity to teach a yoga class of my own, and feeling a tremendous amount of loneliness. Investing in the business of yoga made sense for me—setting up shop by renting out a local space, printing out flyers, creating a website, and so on all seemed pretty doable. But the reality was that I felt overwhelmingly unprepared to enter the world of teaching. At that moment, as I struggled to find students, I felt like a failure as a yoga instructor—but I hadn't actually started teaching yet! I remembered the day of my teaching final. I had been told to “go big or go home” with my practice sequence (the length of which was a whopping 15 minutes). I had tried my best to "go big," but I received a score of only seven out of 10. How could this be? I'd thought. I must really stink as a teacher.
To say I graduated from my yoga teacher training program with less than an abundance of confidence would be quite an understatement. But since then (and since that lonely day in my apartment), I’ve grown tremendously as a yoga teacher. This was thanks in part to my teacher, Jenny Schuck, who mentored me after teacher training. I was nervous when I auditioned to work at her studio; however, Jenny saw right through my nerves and spotty sequencing. She could see my potential. She agreed to hire me on a trial basis, so long as I was up for the hard work it would take to become a skilled and knowledgeable yoga teacher. As my teaching experience began to grow, so did my morale. Eventually I realized that in order to support myself financially as a yoga teacher, I'd need to take on a few more paying gigs, and thanks to Jenny's mentorship and my new-found self-confidence, I was empowered and prepared to do so.
The truth is, becoming a professional yoga teacher takes time and patience. If you feel a bit lackluster in your teaching skills, feel abandoned after your yoga teacher training program, are unsure about how to enter the world of yoga teaching, or are starting your career over after a big move, you might find the five tips below helpful. They are the steps I took at the beginning of my career, and they are the same steps I refer back to when I want to reassess or change direction.
We are not all natural born yoga teachers, but practice makes a huge difference. This is where a strong sense of satya (truthfulness) is essential. When you are starting out, be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Figure out where in your teaching you excel and where you need improvement. Take one category at a time, like sequencing appropriately according to level, communicating your message in language that your students understand, even where you stand in the classroom (especially when you demo). The only efficient way to refine these skills is to teach whenever you get the opportunity. At the outset, accept any teaching opportunity that presents itself, as you are getting a chance to both share what you love and practice your craft. The more you teach, the more comfortable you become. The more comfortable you become, the easier it is to give a mindful class, while continuing to refine your teaching skills.
After you've completed your training, friends or acquaintances might ask you to give free private lessons or classes. Initially, these can be great opportunities to hone your teaching skills (see tip number one); however, if you're hoping to make teaching yoga your career (or even a part-time source of income), you'll also want to focus on networking with other teachers and getting your name out there in the yoga world. Teaching friends privately and for free won’t connect you to the networking opportunities that you'll find working in yoga studios or other public venues (like gyms, community organizations, country clubs, and schools).
Creating a plan to look for jobs (and following through with your plan!) is crucial. Take a cue from your personal yoga practice of tapas (self-discipline). Create a resume—because yes, teaching yoga is a real profession—to show potential employers that you are serious about working for them. If you don't get an immediate response, don’t worry. (One studio I applied to responded to me 14 months after I had sent them my resume!) But do follow up. If you haven’t heard back after a few weeks, call, email, or stop by again.
If you have your heart set on working at a particular place, work your way in gently. Take classes there, ask to work the front desk, or help out at events or festivals. Also remember that there might be a long list of teachers that have applied before you, so you might have to wait a while to get your foot in the door. Even if you're not offered a class of your own initially, you can ask to be put on the sub-list. Subbing is a great opportunity for the student population to get to know you, and it shows business owners and fellow teachers that you are capable and reliable.
If you have your heart set on working at a particular studio, work your way in gently.
Turn your attention to svadhyaya (self-study) in order to build confidence as a teacher. A home practice is a critical part of the process and should begin during teacher training (if not well before).
Often, recent teacher training graduates teach sequences straight out of their teacher training manuals, or write down and "borrow" sequences they've practiced before. These are logical first steps, but as you grow confident in your home practice, the progression of writing your own sequences will come quite naturally; you will want to share with your students what you learn on your mat.
To move from the "imitation" stage into a place of integration, where sequences come from your own experiences as a teacher and practitioner, incorporate into your personal practice what resonates with you from classes or workshops that you attend. This will help you really feel the alignment of the poses in your own body and to teach from that knowledge, rather than just copying what you've heard other teachers say. When you encounter and work through obstacles like muscular tension in an asana, or a mental or emotional obstacle (like lifting your feet away from the floor to move into bakasana, or crane pose), that knowledge serves you in helping students work through obstacles in their own practice.
By strengthening your home practice, you continue the journey that allows you to incorporate what you yourself have learned and experienced into your sequences. This is how you learn to construct classes that are innovative! When you're preparing a class, ask yourself the important questions you need to answer about your sequence (when to do what pose, how to prepare for a peak pose, which key actions to highlight), and then through quiet contemplation and physical experimentation on your mat determine what works and what doesn’t.
By strengthening your home practice, you continue the journey that allows you to incorporate what you yourself learn and experience into your sequences.
Remember: The sequences you create reflect the journey you’ve taken during your home practice and offer insight and direction to the teacher you are becoming.
Exploring how to teach different levels and to different demographics, and then figuring out what type of classes you most enjoy teaching, will steer you toward a path of santosha (contentment). There is a light and blissful feeling that results from standing in front of a group of students and teaching them what you are most excited about. (You'll know you have found such contentment when you find that you can study and teach a subject for hours without tiring of it!)
Once you have a sense of the yoga niche that's right for you, seek out trainings and certifications in that niche. Find teachers who are leaders in the field and see what workshops and trainings they offer. If there isn’t anyone in your area, or if your funds are limited, try online learning. More and more teachers are creating comprehensive, affordable online trainings in everything from sequencing to anatomy to yoga therapy to meditation.
As you gain more knowledge and experience through teaching, you'll begin to identify the space there is for you in the yoga world. Then, you can weed out classes you don't enjoy as much as others, and replace them with classes in your chosen niche. Say you become more experienced in kids’ yoga, for example, you may find that you're teaching less at your gym or studio, and more in schools—perhaps teaching school teachers yoga techniques to share in their classrooms, or hosting yoga camps and parties. When you become experienced in your field through time, practice, knowledge, training, and consistent teaching, your confidence as a teacher will receive an enormous boost. The work you do will be gratifying because of your genuine interest, your desire to increase awareness, and your drive to teach and inspire others.
The biggest mistake we make as teachers is losing our passion for education. Once you have completed your 200-hour teacher training, digest what you've learned and teach simple, basic classes. Then, when you find your niche, study in depth. Go to trainings and workshops; study with teachers online. And don't forget about videos and books! Dissect them, practice with them at home, and incorporate a little of what you have learned into your classes.
Adding tools to your toolbox helps you define what you want to teach, can get you through difficult teaching situations (such as discovering that everyone in your advanced level class this week is actually a beginner!), and supports your confidence as a teacher. The continuation of yoga studies lays the groundwork for becoming a well-equipped, confident teacher as you step in front of your classes.
After graduating from a teacher training program, you will probably feel excited to teach your first class. But you may also experience feelings of inadequacy and hesitation in the beginning. I hope these five tips will help you build self-confidence, and to realize that you hold great potential to be a solid, well-educated teacher. We all have the capacity to share insights with our students, but we need to believe in ourselves as teachers and to understand that what we bring students is valuable. Consider these tips as tools to move you in the direction of not only manifesting a career in the yoga community, but also following your intuition and standing tall as both a teacher and a student of yoga.