On the 25th of June 2017 I spent a nerve-wracking 6 hours taking my Introductory Assessment. Three days later I found out that all the hard work, stress and focus had been worth it, as I had passed and was officially an Iyengar yoga teacher.
Getting to the anniversary of that day has made me think about the first year of yoga teaching and what I’ve learnt so far.
You Get By With a Little Help from Your Friends
I’ve had loads of support.
My husband has had to step into the bedtime breach two evenings a week, as I head out the door to teach my evening classes. He never complains, in fact, he makes a point of asking how the lesson went when I come home and root about for a snack.
The little group of ‘guinea pigs’ that I taught during my training have stuck with me through thick and thin. They committed wholeheartedly to being my loyal test students, and then, when I passed, insisted that the class carry on, with the difference being that they now paid me. They’ve been my students for nearly three years now, and I truly feel that we evolve together.
Yoga friends – especially other yoga teachers – have been an invaluable source of support and mutual comfort. It’s a relief to chat over things that have happened – good and bad – and realise that we all come up against similar bumps in the road.
My yoga teacher, and other senior teachers, who continue to inspire and guide me, in my own practice and with teaching advice, are invaluable.
Although it’s just me standing at the front of the class, there’s a whole army of supporters behind me who give me the confidence to do the job.
It’s OK to Make Mistakes
The reason why the teacher training is so intense becomes apparent when you start teaching. It’s hard. And there’s no one standing behind you telling you what to do.
There are the simple mistakes that all yoga teachers make, like getting your lefts and rights wrong. So apparently simple…and yet, when you’ve got a class of students sitting in the seated spinal twist, Bharadvajasana, with legs going one way and trunk the other, it suddenly becomes the most stressful thing in the world.
I’ve farted while teaching savasana, I’ve been late to class, I’ve forgotten some equipment, I’ve got people’s names wrong, I’ve run out of poses to teach and had to improvise, I’ve had too many poses to teach and had to cut the lesson plan, I’ve forgotten to ask if students have their period, I’ve forgotten to ask if people have a knee injury and so on.
These are small mistakes, but each one is part of my journey to being a better teacher, because every time I make them I make a note in my lesson plan for the next time, or leave extra time for traffic and so on.
Grateful for the Good Bits
It’s easy to focus on the negative. But, as Mr Iyengar says: “Cultivate the positive, abjure the negative.”
I’ve also had teaching successes and some really excellent good bits.
I’ve arrived on time to every lesson I’ve had to teach this year, bar one. I’ve successfully started a new class, which now has a steady core of students. I’ve taken a student up into headstand for the first time. I’ve seen my students progress and improve, both physically and mentally. I’ve got to the end of the class and felt the peace and stillness in the room during savasana, and been deeply grateful.
Any yoga teacher will tell you that you know when you’ve taught a good class. There’s a sense of intense satisfaction and fulfilment, shared between you and your students. You’ve worked them hard, and they’ve worked hard themselves into the bargain.
Keep the Faith
When I first started teaching, I put lots of energy and effort into recruiting new students and the number of students went up and up. As time went on, the numbers began to decline as some had other commitments, or realised it wasn’t for them.
Initially, it was hard not to take this personally. Especially when, for example, a one-off student emailed me specifically to tell me that she’d gone to another yoga class and preferred that one. Thanks.
Feeling dejected I called my yoga teacher trainer. She’s not known for her sympathy, but she was exceptionally understanding. She told me that firstly, it wasn’t ME. Which was a relief. Then she said that the right students would come eventually, and that I must just have faith in the yoga.
Which takes me neatly to the very best bit about teaching yoga: yoga.
It’s not an easy thing to teach, which is what makes it endlessly challenging, interesting and satisfying.
Coming up with lesson plans week after week is an evolving skill, which has come through practice. Sometimes I know that the lesson has worked, because it feels like a pebble fitting perfectly into the palm – it fits. Sometimes I try to fit too much in, or the poses don’t seamlessly blend together.
I also have to keep up my own practice in order to keep ahead of the game. My teacher trainer told me that we should be practising twice as long as we teach, which means I should be doing round 10 hours of yoga a week. I usually manage around half that.
But when I do practice at home there’s a different relationship to it now. I’m more aware of what my body is doing in the poses – I watch for how I’m feeling in order to empathise more and more with my students while I teach. It makes me want to practice more, not less, even if the time constraints of life get in the way.
To conclude, the first year has taught me: not to sweat the small stuff; that cultivating the positive, in my teaching, and my life will bring its own rewards; that I still have an awful lot to learn but I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life learning it.
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