In the almost 10 years I have been teaching yoga, I have gone through many incarnations of my role as a teacher. At one time or another, I have had to learn some lessons and make some choices to keep teaching not only fun, but also manageable and fulfilling. Here are four of my 4 biggest suggestions to help teachers relax and enjoy the wonderful craft of teaching yoga.
1. Relax, you don't need to blow anyone's mind
It is not our job to blow everyone's mind every time we teach. Trust in the process of yoga, remember why you became hooked on the practice yourself, why you decided to teach, and what keeps you practicing. Yes, I know for all of us along the way there have been those moments where a teacher blew our minds, but in reality it's the practice itself that provides us with the truly profound insights. It's the yoga that works to build our energetic strength and resilience. It's the yoga that opens our minds and hearts to what we need for the next parts of our journey. My favorite teachers are those who simply teach a yoga class. There are no pedantic speeches, theatrics, or circus tricks; it's just a genuine and authentic yoga class which gives me space to have my own mind blowing insights.
And while we're in mind-blowing land, we don't need to feel guilty or like we're bad teachers if we don't say or do something profound when we teach. I am still amazed that many times a student of mine will come up to me and say "six months ago you said XYZ and it totally blew my mind." I often smile as I usually can't even remember saying XYZ, and when I hear XYZ repeated back to me I think, "I said XYZ?"
All I ever try to do is speak to the moment; to the real time class that is unfolding before me and say what feels like it needs to be said. A long time ago I let go of the idea of theming or trying to have a lesson for my class. Theming, unless it is natural to us and done with tremendous experiential skill, often turns into a creative straight jacket that blinds us to what is actually happening moment to moment in our classes. It's when we are speaking to the moment that we say something that for whatever reasons someone needed to hear. If we can trust in the power of speaking to the moment, we will always say what is needed. And if we can trust ourselves and play with this idea, we will feel far more free and awake when we teach.
2. Don't try to be anyone's savior
This is a big one my friends, learn from my own pitfalls with this in many different areas of my life. It's not our job to save anyone. It's not our responsibility to save anyone. Furthermore, it's presumptuous to assume anyone needs to be saved and that we know what is best for their karmic journey. It's our job to teach a yoga class, speak authentically, and go home. If there is any saving to be done, it is the practice itself not us that brings that about. If we get into the idea, consciously or unconsciously, that we are saving or changing people, we have got our egos mixed up with our dharma and are most likely working out our own issues on our students. Our job as teachers is to open and hold space for our students and our students are free to do whatever they want to do with that space. Their karma and their karmic journey are their business. The savior role sets us up for all sorts of unhealthy and unethical boundary issues that create a great deal of unnecessary suffering, emotional drain, and often impede spiritual growth.
3. Simplicity always wins
Many times as a beginning/intermediate teacher we place a great deal of pressure on ourselves to teach "dynamic sequences". Usually, if we don't know what we're doing, "dynamic sequences" turn into a convoluted mish-mash of unnecessarily complicated poses and transitions. Often times at this point in our career we are advancing quite quickly in our own practice. We are learning all sorts of new and fun poses and we cannot wait to share them with our classes. But, as I learned for myself, knowing a bunch of advanced poses without knowing how to properly prepare for them or teach them is analogous to knowing the vocabulary of a language without knowing the grammar. The words don't make sense if they are not in the proper context. Take the time to learn some sequencing and anatomy tips from senior teachers before you start throwing random poses into the mix that don't make sense.
Also trust in the simplicity of a basic sequence of asana. Trust that simplicity always works and simplicity is the way to help the whole class feel successful and will leave everyone feeling really good. When sequencing is truly "dynamic" it is like a beautiful poem: elegant, clear, and simple. Every pose has a purpose and there are no extraneous poses or transitions. Take the time to learn the grammar of advanced sequencing so it can have elegance and grace. It will not only help your students, but also take a tremendous amount of pressure off your shoulders.
4. Self-Care is essential
I always smile when a friend decides to teach yoga full time and after a few months tells me "Geez it's a lot of work." The flexibility of a yoga teacher's schedule can sometimes lead to the illusion that it is an "easy" vocation. And don't get me wrong, it's a fabulous life and I wouldn't trade it for anything. And, I do at this point in my career have a wonderful schedule and am free to do a lot of cool stuff. But, that's 10 years of teaching under my belt and it was not always that way. Teaching nights, early mornings, weekends, and subbing every class you can get your hands on is the norm for the beginning teacher. Yoga teacher burnout is much more common than we might think. Even B.K.S. Iyengar in his book Light on Life mentions burnout as an occupational harzard. Teaching a class, let alone multiple classes per day requires enormous amounts of focus, clarity, energy, mindfulness, and skill. It expends a great deal of energy.
We as teachers need to build time for self-care into our schedules. Find the things that replenish you and make time in your day or week to do them. Use yoga techniques for yourself and also make time to do things that have nothing to do with yoga. This is so important as when we teach yoga as our profession, we need to be able to have a life that in some way does not revolve around yoga all the time. That way when we come back to teaching and practice we are refreshed and can continue to find joy and fulfillment in what we do.
Teaching yoga is a remarkable profession. I believe that yoga as it is evolving in the west is a key component of establishing new paradigms of health in our society. The continuing evolution of this practice and profession will have beneficial ramifications for humanity beyond anything we can currently conceive. We as teachers just need to remember how to keep ourselves in balance so we may give the very best of ourselves to this incredible vocation we've been lucky enough to find.