5 Things ALL Yoga Teachers Should Do
You aren't being the the BEST yoga teacher you can be unless you are doing these five things. (Going to India is NOT on the list but Number 4 might surprise you!)
1. Cultivate your own personal practice.
This is number one on our list because it is the number one most important thing to do if you are are going to be guiding others through their yoga practices. Not only is your own practice essential for your own overall health, which you need, because being a yoga teacher is a physically and mentally demanding job with long days of marathon classes, dashing from studio to studio, exposure to all kinds of sweaty, germey people breathing heavily, and mental gymnastics of organizing, scheduling, creating and problem solving. But also because your mat is where your work on new poses and test out new ideas and flows. Good in-class demos start with you practicing them at home alone. Good flows start with you finding your way through them in your own time. If you want to give your students good cues and feedback in class, it helps if you have recently felt those poses and transitions in your body.
Fill your own cup, so you can give from a place of abundance.
2. Go to yoga class.
It is so SO so easy for teachers to skip class. Especially if you work in a studio. Maybe you have several duties like assisting other teachers, cleaning spaces and equipment, working the front desk or in the office in addition to guiding your own classes. So you may have a sense that you have been participating in yoga all day, when really, you haven't had one moment of clear, uninterrupted access to your breath since breakfast. Going to class regularly has all kinds of benefits like helping you to maintain a clear connection to your "beginner's mind," practice those poses you tend to skip in your home practice, actively participate in your local yoga community, and stay relevant with the other teachers in your studio or town. (I could write a whole article on the how's and why's of this one topic...and maybe I will...)
3. Engage with media that inspire you.
If you have been teaching for any length of time, you have probably noticed that you become increasingly able to disengage from your mouth while teaching! It happened to me after about two years of teaching full time - I could essentially sleep-talk through my own class (especially, those 6 am classes!) There is nothing wrong with finding your "grove" as a teacher. But there comes a point when you need an injection of new material to stay fresh, both for your own sake and your students'. You also need to keep up-to-date on topics like exercise science, pedagogy, and events in the yoga world. I love to listen to podcasts; my two favs are Yogaland with Andrea Ferreti and Jason Crandell and Let's Talk Yoga with Arundhati Baitmangalkar. Binge-watch some documentaries, follow a fav insta-yogi, or sit down with some good old fashioned books; however you do it, find a way to keep the input coming in. Stay fresh, motivated and inspired.
4. Engage in the world outside of yoga.
This may surprise you, but most yoga teachers seriously love yoga. In my first five years of teaching, and, especially, in the early years of running my own studio, I wanted to practice yoga allllllll the time. I took all of that advise above and went hard. I hung out at my own studio, then went for coffee dates with yoga friends and talked about yoga, then went home and sat on my couch with a stack of yoga books or watched documentaries on famous yogis. (Obviously, this was before kids!) Then I went on vacation to towns where I knew there were great studios and teachers or went on train-cations or retreats or teacher-trainings.... I did little else. It was a fabulous time and I learned a lot about myself and about yoga. But I found that my dharma talks started to get stale, sound trite, like something I had read on my Yogi tea bag that morning. I saw a super funny video on YouTube one time called, "Stupid shit yoga teachers say," and I sounded JUST LIKE THAT. Unless you live and work at Kripalu, for most of us, our students are not submersing themselves in yoga 24/7 - they live in the real world of jobs and kids and churches and family struggles and they need someone who can help them dive fully into yoga a couple of times each week AND THEN JUMP BACK OUT. Don't become a teacher who can't connect to your students about anything other than yoga - you will miss out on so much!
5. Reflect in meaningful ways.
It is not enough to take the first four steps here if you don't reflect on what you gain and how you can intentionally incorporate that into your teaching practice. Again, it is sooooo very easy to go on autopilot after you've been teaching for a bit. So, after you have committed to your personal practice, to going to someone else's class, reading and thinking about yoga, and cultivating a life outside of yoga, it is time to reflect. I like journaling and, obviously, blogging. Writing helps me organize and clarify my thoughts. I keep several kinds of journals - short daily gratitude lines, long on-going to-do lists of goals with objectives and timelines and action points, and I also create zen-doodles as a kind of words-free journaling project.
If writing isn't for you, maybe organize a formal or informal sangha, like a coffee club with a few other yoga teachers, where you can discuss what you are reading, doing, or thinking. Or your reflection might take the form of a date with yourself, like a monthly hike somewhere quiet where you can clear your mind and reflect. If you are more visual, set a time each month where you vision board pulling together images that serve to focus you for the coming month. There is no right way to go about it, however, it is crucial that you give yourself time and space to digest and integrate.