What I’ve learned as a yoga teacher (so far…)

So, it’s been roughly six months since I started teaching yoga and what a fabulous six months it’s been! However, it’s not been without it’s lessons, and I thought I would take some time out to reflect on what I’ve learned so far. Some of these things are never discussed in teacher trainings, so hopefully this post will also be of use for new teachers and teacher trainees. I’d also love to hear your thoughts and things that you may have learnt as a new or experienced teacher, so please feel free to leave your comments below!

Do you want to make money or do you want to be a yoga teacher? I’m not saying the two are mutually exclusive – there are plenty of very successful yoga teachers out there who earn more than enough to make a living. But when you’re starting out, depending on where you teach, you’re most likely going to be making a pittance, and sometimes nothing at all. For myself, I hire the space in which I run my classes, which means if I don’t get students, then I don’t get paid. And if I don’t get enough students, then I might be able to cover my overheads, but I don’t make a profit. It’s only been the past few months in which I’ve started to break even. But you know what? I don’t really care. Why? Because I’m teaching yoga! I’d love one day to make a living solely from teaching yoga, but the reality is for most of us, we’re going to need a second job in order to pay the rent and keep us fed.

In the early days of teaching, I used to get really frustrated when no one turned up, worried about profit and loss. But once I started to let go of my attachment to the money side of things, I found I was able to enjoy simply teaching all the more, no matter how many or how few people turned up. And your students will be able to tell a mile off whether your classes are motivated by a desire for money, or a genuine desire to be of service and share the gift of yoga.

Teaching opportunities are out there – but you’ve got to find them. Everywhere you look, it seems there’s a yoga class being offered – studios, gyms, community centres, in parks, at schools. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that all the good teaching gigs in your area have been taken. And finding a teaching job is not like finding a “normal” job – you don’t simply open The Age classifieds on a Saturday morning and scan the “Yoga Teachers Wanted” ads. You might be lucky enough to be offered a job upon graduation – but then again, you might not.

So you need to network. Join or start a Facebook group for yoga teachers in your area – teachers often use this to advertise for covers or new studios opening up. Make yourself known to gyms and studios and let them know you’re available for covers. Be prepared to travel and to work odd hours and sometimes at short notice.

Maybe you could teach friends or colleagues. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive workplace (my day job) that allows me to run a weekly yoga class to our clients. I don’t get paid any extra, but it’s invaluable teaching experience – and in the early days, that’s exactly what you need.

There will be days when you don’t want to teach. I love yoga to itty bitty pieces, but just as there are days when my yoga mat is as attractive to me as an animal carcass, so too there are days when I really don’t want to teach. I’m tired. My muscles ache. It’s dark/cold/raining. My regulars have cancelled. I’ve had a crazy-busy week and don’t want to speak to anyone. But I go. And I teach. And I love it. Teaching, like yoga itself, requires and inspires commitment, dedication, discipline and practice. And has there ever been a time when you’ve gotten on your mat and regretted it afterwards? Exactly. Teaching is the same.

Students will come and go but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher. You will have students who come for one or two classes, only to never be seen again. This does not mean you suck as a teacher. It just means that you’re perhaps not the right teacher for them. Be honest, when you first started doing yoga, didn’t you shop around, trying out different teachers, studios and styles until you found one that fit? So try not to take it personally. I did at first, until I bumped my ego out of the way and reminded myself that it’s about what’s best for my students, and sometimes “what’s best” is not necessarily me.

Some yoga teachers/studio directors/gym managers are flakes. Emphasis on “some”! Most yoga teachers and others within the wellness industry are amongst the nicest, most transparent and helpful people you can get. But there are, unfortunately, a tiny handful who advertise teaching positions and request expressions of interest, then never bother to return your email or phone call, not even to acknowledge its receipt or to advise that the position has been filled. I understand that time is a precious commodity these days, but how long does it take to write a one or two line email, BCC it and hit send? In my opinion, it’s not just unprofessional – it’s plain rude. And who wants to work for or with rude people? Be the bigger person, leave them to it and move on.

And lastly, teaching yoga is awesome. You probably knew this one already! Sure, it’s terrifying at first with all those eyes on you, while you try to remember your sequences and not get tongue tied, but once you get into the flow of it, it’s like the teaching itself becomes your yoga practice. Fluid, graceful, carefully and creatively crafted. And your students’ expressions of pure bliss after class? Priceless.

 

On attachment and change…AKA when Body Combat and yoga collide

It’s been years since I set foot in a gym. Nasty places, populated by impossibly energetic personal trainers who have clearly missed their calling as army drill sergeants, grunting men with no necks and matchstick thin women who look like they could benchpress me, no problem.

So why was I here, on a freezing Thursday evening, nervously sipping water as I waited for my Body Combat class to start?

Because, much as it pains me to admit it, my beloved yoga practice is no longer enough to keep the dreaded kilo-creep at bay. I’ve been vinyasa-ing my little heart out, eating salad, and still they keep on coming!

(As a side note, I’m fully aware that weight loss is not the primary reason for practicing yoga. But when it’s pretty much the only form of exercise I actually enjoy – or so I thought, turns out boxing is awesome! – it has to perform double-duty.)

Anyway. I kicked, punched and kata-ed my way through 55 minutes of class, got suitably red-faced and sweaty and went back home to bask in my own self-satisfied, post-exercise glow.

The next day, my upper arms and shoulders felt much the same as after my very first Ashtanga class – that is, I could barely move them (though post-Ashtanga was much, much worse). So when I got home from work, I unrolled my yoga mat and set about my practice, the plan being to give my shoulders and arms a good stretch. The reality? I stubbornly ignored the aching stiffness and muscled my way through chatarangas, arm balances and binds. I did have the foresight, however, to give headstand a miss.

The Marichi poses, in particular, are a bugger at the best of times. Add in stiff shoulders and you’ve got a recipe for frustration and disappointment. I huffed and puffed (and not in a good way) myself almost to the point of tears, as my ego popped out for a cheery hello:

THIS IS MY PRACTICE! I ALWAYS BIND IN MARICHI A THROUGH C AND I AM BINDING TODAY, MUSCLE SORENESS BE DAMNED!

Please shut up, ego, you’re going to get someone hurt.

What surprised me the most was the ferocity of my reaction to “not being able to practice the way I always do”. I was more than frustrated. I was ANGRY. Something had come between me and my practice!

It was only after the muscle soreness had disappeared, and my practice back to “normal”, that I was able to reflect on what such a minor challenge said about me and my approach to my practice.

Attachment, attachment, attachment.

And, as most of us have probably figured out by now, attachment can only ever lead to suffering.

When you rely on a person, or object, or idea as a source of happiness or measure of success, and then that person, or object, or idea is taken away, you experience a sense of loss, sadness, loneliness, despair, failure. You suffer.

So when you rely on yout ability to complete a certain vinyasa sequence or achieve a certain pose as a measure of your ability and worth as a yogi, and then one day, for whatever reason, you fail, you feel disappointed, frustrated, impatient, angry. You suffer.

One of the great things about yoga is that we take the lessons learned on the mat, out into the world. Through our practice we learn that every day is different, that we are different, from moment to moment. Sometimes we can balance in headstand like a champion, other days we struggle to get our toes off the floor. Nothing stays the same. EVERYTHING changes – our practice, our homes, our jobs, our loves, our friends, our interests. And this is how it should be. This is life, moving us forward on our path.

Let’s also consider that everything – us, that favourite photo, your car – is just energy. And according to Physics 101, energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. So next time you feel that you have “lost” or “failed” something, remember this – you have also gained something new.

And while change is not something we always have control over, we can control how we respond to it – with fear, anger and resistance, or with grace, love and surrender.

Next time, I know which one I’m choosing.

Mindful in May: A summary

Last month I participated in Mindful in May to help raise much needed funds in order to bring clean water to people living in developing countries. Thanks to our united efforts – and of course, all of the lovely people who sponsored us – we were able to raise over $80, 000, enough to fund two water development projects in Rwanda!

As I wrote in my last blog, however, I also saw Mindful in May as a personal challenge, a way of introducing a consistent meditation practice into my daily life.

So, how’d I go?

I’ll admit, it wasn’t always easy. I feel as though I have the chattiest monkey mind in the world, and the first week in particular was very frustrating as I sought to quiet it. I did miss a couple of days, and others I was so exhausted that my meditation practice consisted of me lying supine in bed, focusing on my breath and trying not to fall asleep.

Knowing I was part of a community, acting for a common purpose, helped to keep me on track most of the time, and by the end of the month I looked forward to those ten minutes of silence, stillness, and space. My monkey mind was still, well, monkeying around, but I became more efficient at identifying and witnessing my thoughts, rather than identifying with my thoughts, and in doing so was able to create a little more space in which to just be.

I confess, as soon as May ended, I allowed life to get in the way again and my meditation practice has once again been left behind. But I remember that bewitching sensation of inner peace, and with two weeks of annual leave stretching out in front of me, I hope to once more settle upon my cushion and find that blissful inner knowing.