Night and day. This is me year one and year two as a yoga teacher.
The math: Eighty classes averaging about six students each means I was part of 480 moments of peace. Some of those involved music and meditation and chanting. Some were at a yoga studio, others a fitness studio. But all of them involved breathing—deep belly breathing and speaking from my heart. And the best part? People keep coming back because this medicine runs deep.
Here’s what I’ve learned during those moments, following a writing tradition I started two years ago when I became an “official” yoga teacher. The truth is, I feel like I’ve been doing this all my life.
1. Students should dictate the yoga class, not the teacher.
I’ve taken my fair share of yoga classes where it’s clear the teacher planned to stick to their sequence before they even stepped in the door. Excluding Bikram or Ashtanga styles here, of course, where the whole point is the ritualized poses. This is fine. But I’ve discovered it’s just not for me. And I had an intuition during my first year teaching that this was the case.
This doesn’t mean I show up unprepared. I’ve always got my dharma talk/theme ready and a good chunk of major sequences and poses planned. But—call me crazy—20 percent of my class is improvised.
I adapt based on my students’ injuries and their energy levels. I listen to them breathe and I watch them move. And like a well-played game of Chinese checkers, we move across the board giving and taking, taking and giving, until we arrive on the other side—in the same positions, but completely changed.
2. Never underestimate the importance of child’s pose.
When I first began practicing yoga, I’ll admit that my competitive mind thought child’s pose was a cop out. This was because I didn’t yet understand the true purpose of yoga, and instead treated it like something to be mastered (like I tried to do with every other aspect of my life.)
This is common and something I seek to shift in others every time I teach. Balasana is sacred. There’s something about that humbling posture that heals and informs, so I encourage it frequently and especially during sun salutations. Because if you don’t give someone permission to take a break, they often won’t take it. All of us could use a little more break time.
3. There is always something you “could have done better,” but there’s also a lot of great stuff you already do.
I’m ridiculously hard on myself. My students are hard on themselves, too. I often see the frustration on their faces when they find they can’t touch their toes in Paschimottanasana (Seated forward bend) or when their balance is off and they keep falling in Vrksasana (Tree pose).
So this year a central tenant of nearly all my classes is, “Let go of judgment. You’re on your own path. You’re right where you need to be.”
Yoga is just a practice. Life is just a practice. And the only ones expecting us to be perfect are ourselves. So I let go of my blundered verbal cues or when I forget to cue the same poses on each leg because these things are part of my path toward becoming a better teacher. Thank goodness I have patient students.
4. The quickest way to get to peace is to get in your body.
The ancient yogis practiced postures to prepare their bodies to sit for long periods in meditation. They didn’t practice postures to rock a handstand or to even be able to touch their toes. They practiced so they could go within.
I approach my classes with this in mind, and everything changes. And it’s this one concept that got me hooked on yoga in the first place. Five years ago, I first felt depression loosen its hold on my mind when I got on a mat and into my body. Who has time to check out when your hamstrings are screaming at you?
5. You can’t unlearn being a yoga teacher.
As much as becoming a yoga teacher has transformed my life, sometimes I wish I could shut off my teacher brain and just be a yoga student. This is what the book Made to Stick calls the Curse of Knowledge. While I don’t want to unlearn being a teacher, I do wish I could relearn how to take off my teacher glasses, give up control and let myself be led.
Curious what I discovered during the previous year teaching yoga? Click here.