Six Lessons from My First Year of Teaching Yoga

Yoga Basics at the Lindy Lab I enrolled in yoga teacher training over 2 years ago and, soon after, started teaching a little bit here and there, mostly to family, friends, and neighbors.  Last January, I embarked on my own weekly gig, a beginner’s mat-based class at a local dance space, Yoga at the Lindy Lab.  This is when my REAL education began. Here are six lessons I’ve learned in my freshman year of teaching.

1) It is more difficult than I thought

I am smart; I like being in front of a group; I know my poses and philosophy; I enjoy yoga.  Teaching should be easy, right?  WRONG!  Teaching yoga requires a different range of skills than I developed over my 34 years in the computer industry.  And, I have to perform these skills simultaneously.  I must do it, explain it, inspire it, watch it, and react to it — all at the same time.  For me, it’s a new form of multi-tasking. And, no matter how much the students seem to like the class, I always feel I could have done better.

2) Yoga can pervade your life

Teaching yoga has changed my own practice and informs all my other activities.  I cannot get on a mat or go to a class without thinking about how I would teach that pose or convey a particular concept. When skiing, I connect to my breath to maintain a rhythm and I am more aware of my alignment when dancing. I notice other people’s posture and imagine yoga poses that could help them. When I witness people’s anger and frustration, I want to tell them to take a step back and breathe.  But, I don’t. Instead, I take a step back and let it pass. Computer programming wasn’t like this!

3) You need a plan but be ready to improvise

I always spend time each week planning what to teach.  I try to keep some consistency between my classes, so that people actually learn the poses, while adding variety and new challenges.  I might prepare an entire class around hip openers, or put together a different kneeling sequence, or expect to include a more difficult pose.  Then, something happens that makes this a bad idea.  A few people mention their lower back hurts, someone’s knee is bothering them, or someone arrives who is completely new to yoga. Good-bye plan, hello reality.

4) People come to class for different reasons

Most people come for the exercise, seeking self-improvement; they want to be more physically fit or lose weight. Some come for community, to be with their friends who enjoy it.  One student, who was recovering from cancer, came because her doctor recommended it to relieve stress. Others come because yoga is trending and they are just curious. So far, no one has said they’ve come for the spiritual value. Except for weight loss, I believe these expectations can be satisfied and, over time, I hope the spiritual benefit will sneak in.

5) People don’t come back for unknown reasons

A lot of people come to class once or twice and never return.  I wonder what happened?  Maybe they moved away, maybe they didn’t like yoga, maybe they didn’t like my class or me? I try not to take it personally but it is hard. I am not part of a yoga studio or any organization; it is just me with my minimal resources putting myself out there. I will probably never know why people don’t come back and I have to let it go.

6) Some people just cannot do what you ask

I understand that not everyone can touch their toes, balance on one leg, or support their weight on their arms.  I certainly don’t expect that. Right/left confusion is pervasive and immediately forgiven.  But, I’ve found that I can show a simple move over and over, saying it five different ways, and some people don’t respond. It might be a little thing like “lift your front arm” or “drop your back heel”, nothing difficult.  It seems like they cannot hear or see it, or cannot connect what they hear and see to their own bodies.  And…THAT’S OKAY!  They are physically present, breathing, and doing their own version of the pose.  As long as they are not hurting themselves, I accept that, smile, and go on.

In fact, the overarching lesson I’ve learned is that it’s ALL okay. The most important thing for me is to continue teaching, studying, and living yoga.

12 thoughts on “Six Lessons from My First Year of Teaching Yoga

  1. Tricia A. January 6, 2016 / 10:03 pm

    Love this! I found my first class with you engaging, strengthening, funny and a workout. When I have to focus on my breath and trying to keep my not very sturdy self from falling over I notice the “noise and chatter” in my head is not as loud. If I can strengthen my body, learn how to balance a little better and make some quiet space in my mind so I can hear God’s voice then you have done an excellent job in my book!

    • accidental goddess January 6, 2016 / 10:29 pm

      Thank you for reading and responding to my blog…and for coming to yoga class with such an open heart and mind.

  2. yogibattle January 7, 2016 / 6:45 am

    Very true about some people cannot do what you ask. Very nice insights!

    • accidental goddess January 7, 2016 / 4:00 pm

      Thank you! I found your website with its abundant information and will start following you. I am always amazed at how much there is to yoga. Sometimes it seems like the more I learn, the less I feel I know. It is quite a journey, isn’t it?

  3. Elyse Rolfe January 11, 2016 / 12:51 pm

    So happy Pat forwarded this to us. I could not agree MORE!!!! You hit it all spot on as I am coming to a close of my first year teaching as well. Thank you for sharing your insight and sharing your love of yoga! Namaste.

    • accidental goddess January 11, 2016 / 4:19 pm

      Thank you, Elyse. I am glad you enjoyed it and can relate. Maybe our paths will cross and we can compare notes on this interesting journey.

  4. michelecarlo January 11, 2016 / 9:57 pm

    Sensitive and insightful. You are an effective yoga teacher for so many reasons. And a good writer, too!

    • accidental goddess January 12, 2016 / 4:37 pm

      Thank you for your kind words. You’ll have to come to Durham one day to drop in at the Lindy Lab.

  5. spoor33 January 12, 2016 / 1:16 pm

    I love reading your about your insights — you have always been a source of wisdom for me and I wish I could take your class!! I hope someday you’ll write a book. I think a lot of people would read it. xoxo Sally

    • accidental goddess January 12, 2016 / 2:17 pm

      A deal — either you to come to my class when you are in NC or I’ll give you a private lesson when I visit you, whichever comes first. And, having been published yourself, you can talk to me about a book!

  6. Maxene Raices January 15, 2016 / 2:57 pm

    So here’s another twist on why some people can’t do what you ask: they may need a different kind of instruction! Some learners are verbal while others are visual or tactile. It may be awkward, but I’ll bet if you had time you would find that if you helped a person to physically see/feel what body part you’re talking about, would that help? Just a thought….

    • accidental goddess January 15, 2016 / 3:33 pm

      You are very right about that. I am aware of these differences and try two of the three methods first. I am VERY reluctant to do hands-on adjustments but sometimes, when nothing else works, I might have to gently coax a limb into proper position, always asking permission to touch them first. And then, it’s just a light touch. If it’s a short, transitional pose, it doesn’t matter. When it’s something they will hold for a while, I will reluctantly resort to a tactile cue and hope they will “feel” it and remember it next time. I never liked being touched in yoga class so I am sure that is the root of it.

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