Teachers' Corner

The Becoming of a Yoga Teacher: 3 Lessons from Teaching Yoga

When I first started practicing, I had no thoughts about teaching yoga. I was shopping around for a workout or regime that would give me the toned muscles so many of us desire. I saw a newspaper clipping about yoga and decided to give it a try. After my very first yoga class, I was hooked.

I kept to my practice daily and along the way, my goal and motivation changed. It was no longer about a toned physique, though that was a welcomed benefit, but more about how it made me feel on and off the mat. I went from highly stressed to serenely calm. If before, I could not stand the idea of staying in a pose for a lengthened period of time, afterward I could not perceive a different way of approaching asanas.

3 years down the line in my practice, I realized that I want to teach yoga. I had benefited so much from it that I’d like others to see what they can gain too. I wanted others to experience the kind of calmness on the mat that I did. I wanted them to become stronger, both mentally and physically. And so, with this in mind, I signed up for a yoga teacher training course.

As a newly minted teacher, I became eager to start teaching yoga. They say that to learn, you need to teach. Boy, how true were those words for me! As I taught more and more students, my ideals began to wane. I became humbled. My students taught me far more than I could teach them.

In knowing so much, I knew so little

I entered my first yoga class armed with a truckload of information on alignment and breathing in asanas. I was to teach a group of 10 students, each varying in figure, disposition and general health. Halfway through class, I was stumbling. I knew plenty about my poses. I could cue the correct alignment and say the right things. But many weren’t receptive to it. It wasn’t because they were uncooperative; it was because they simply could not execute my cues, however simple I called them. There was my first lesson. I knew what to teach but I didn’t know how to teach it. My first 10 students showed me how every one and every body is different. I needed to be more attuned to their individual needs and not see them as a collective.

Listen, analyze, and then decide

At the beginning of a new class that I teach, I usually ask my students what they were hoping to get out of the class. At one of my classes, a student mentioned that he wanted a fast-paced class. He wanted to sweat and feel tired. I nodded, and then decided to tailor the class to a vinyasa-style class. I soon realized this to be a mistake. The same student was struggling to keep up mid-class. He was huffing and puffing, and rushing through each asana, wanting to keep up with the rest of the pact. I had listened to what he wanted. But I didn’t analyze the situation. Could he keep up? Is he ready for a high-powered class? Second lesson right there: listen to the student, but don’t forget to listen to yourself too.

Sometime, breathing is all you need

At a private class with a student, I asked her what she aimed for in the session. She wanted to make yoga a lifelong practice. Along the way, she told me many of her life stories that included a lot of pain and stress. Together, we practiced a combination of standing and sitting asanas. I had given her some alignment to work on, but the more I gave, the faster she breathed. I realized that these instructions made her nervous. She didn’t know where to focus her mind, becoming more stressed by the minute. So I stopped my cues, only asking her to breath deeply. She calmed down. This was my biggest lesson yet. That yoga is about breathing. The goal was never the fancy asanas; it was to calm the mind through breath.

How about you, yoga teachers? What lessons have you learned from your teaching practice? Tell us below!

2 Comments

  1. Pála Margrét

    Pála Margrét

    March 8, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    This is something I say to my students, that my teacher told me, that even though we just breathe together for an hour it’s enough. Breathing is the key to it all, and moving with the breathe is the most amazing feeling of them all!

  2. Amanda Sides

    Amanda Sides

    May 11, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    One of my teachers told us to give students what they need, not what they think they need. 🙂 Many think they need a workout when they come to yoga, but really, most of us need some peace and permission to rest. Those can be combined in one class, of course, but like you say, the key is to listen, and then exercise your own judgment as well. Learning to respond to the energy in the room was a valuable lesson for me. I’ve been teaching long enough now that I can’t really remember when it happened, but I have no ties to any plan I might have when I go in. I adapt the practice for whoever shows up that day, and how they show up that day. 🙂

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