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.