Want to be a yoga teacher? Be careful what you wish for…
Back in 2009 I was a quivering wreck of insecurities, substance abuse and depression. If you’d asked me at that time to get up in front of a room of strangers and teach them yoga I would have laughed in your face then crawled back under the duvet. That year I’d just started practicing yoga and was so inept at coordination that I made Bambi on ice look graceful. It didn’t deter me – my stress levels were momentarily reduced as I practiced and so I kept practicing every day to stave off the demons, to maintain that post-yoga calmness for a little while longer until finally one night I could sleep.
I was traveling the world back then and it became time for me to move on and say goodbye to the luxury of a studio space in Sydney. Suddenly I was alone in my practice and it soon eventuated I hadn’t a clue what on earth I’d been doing to my body in those led classes in that plush harbourside studio. However, I continued to practice on my own wherever I could but my memory was terrible and my levels of procrastination could easily outdo that of a stoned philosopher. Needless to say much time was spent on the mat scratching my head, falling over and enjoying VERY long savasanas. Yet still, I persisted.
My new temporary abode found me surrounded by fellow travellers who found my “practice” fascinating, disciplined and inspiring even though I felt like a fish out of water flailing about on my mat (still do, by the way). I was keen to get them involved, picking their brains at what they’d learnt in yoga classes, mimicking poses and looking things up online whenever we got bored lazing about on the beach. Fast forward a year or so of awkward practice, feeling my depression lift and sitting on my arse for ten days in Auckland’s Vipassana Centre, I had this gut instinct to go to India to learn yoga, to do my yoga teacher training.
Yeh, I’m another one of those who went to India alone to find her spiritual side, buy the mala beads and bust out some bendy moves. How very clichéd of me. I’d apologise but that trip changed (read: saved) my life and has consequently helped steer others in a better direction too.
I was drawn to the Ashtanga yoga method to stave off procrastination and inertia that the depressed, indecisive side of me loved to wallow in. Here was a pre-determined sequence that I needed to memorise and simply get on with in good faith and understanding that the sequence was well thought through, methodical, and safe. I liked the no-nonsense approach of Ashtanga; it spoke to the practical side of me and the way it illuminated change, progression, regression, laziness, strength and refinement all at once. For someone who suffers depression, it’s important to recognise the constant state of flux in nature, that the here and now is not the be all and end all.
I never went to my yoga teacher training course to be a teacher, I went to delve deep into a technique, a skill I could apply and use on a daily basis. I found it to be my daily dose of medicine – all those pills I’d stashed away got thrown in the gutter. A new, healthy habit had formed on my mat.
The information I learnt on my training course has been invaluable as a practitioner and the moment I got back to the UK, I found myself sharing the knowledge so as not to let it fade – I have to do things in order for my brain to memorise it. I found people encouraging me to spread the knowledge by teaching a class but the idea got me nervous and my guts felt as if they were trying to do their own version of Marichyasana D.
But, a big but, they say you’re a product of your environment and I’d ended up surrounded by some pretty wonderful and supportive folk who wouldn’t let me have my passion and knowledge go to waste. It was all a bit of a haze (as things usually are in transformative stages of life) as I went through the process of setting up a class. My first ever class had two people in it – my then boyfriends mum and a lady recovering from a slipped disc. No pressure then…
And so, it began. The eye opening world of being a yoga teacher, being exposed to the things they don’t really tell you on those training courses. So far, this is what I’ve learnt being a teacher:
When two people show up to class, don’t be dismayed – most people love the opportunity of having your undivided attention and support. It’ll be these two students who will spread the word and no amounts of money can buy word of mouth recommendations.
People seem to think that yoga teachers’ knowledge of the body and all its ailments is up there with a specialist doctor’s knowledge. All I know is that if you have cracked ribs (you know who you are!) – you should stay at home and read up on the word ahimsa. Same to the student who turned up to class with TWO BROKEN FEET!!! (Honest to the divine being above, you can’t make this stuff up) I am no doctor, physio or osteopath, I am simply a suggestion box of poses and variations thereof and offer up support should you need it. Please take responsibility with your practice and body – treat it respectfully.
As a teacher you have to accept that some is going to fart in your face and you have to try and NOT laugh.
The day I schedule to go out and post leaflets advertising my yoga class, it will be sideways rain/sleet/snow. Guaranteed, every time.
It’s important to not teach what you don’t know or don’t practice. How could someone teach guitar if they never played? It’s the same with asana. Your student will respect your modesty and it may encourage you to explore some deeper learning.
Nothing should get in the way of self-practice. Nothing. Whether it’s two sun salutations, two hours of deep work or a two week retreat, it needs to be done. Before now I’ve practiced in a corridor, a changing room and a cramped bedroom. Discipline doesn’t care about location, time or place.
Not only am I a teacher, I’m an agony aunt, a shoulder to cry on, a friend, a confidante and the bitch you give evil looks to when I keep making you repeat Chaturanga until you get it right (it’s out of loving compassion, honest)
The learning is endless. Whether it’s anatomy, movement theory, self-practice, new variations of a pose, new techniques, philosophy, a new chant… There is so much scope that, just like the practice itself, it is infinite and I feel I know less and less each day.
The training and retreats you see us on have probably been years in the making by scrimping together the couple of quid each class makes us after room hire, insurance, transport, rent, food etc.
I never knew drawing stickmen would be such an intricate art form. You laugh, but try drawing one in Gomukhasana or Marichyasana D.
If we have 10 hour long classes a week, that doesn’t mean we have a 10 hour week. That’s like saying teachers in our education system only work a few months a year… How smug I was at the vision of someone I knew start to build up their own yoga classes who once thought I never did any “real” work as a yoga teacher. They soon found themselves exhausted at sequencing, preparing rooms, marketing, driving to and fro, maintaining another job that actually pays the bills and being all smiley and happy at the front of the class.
When I’ve been through heartache, arguments, financial woes and depression the last thing I want to do is teach but actually, teaching is just as uplifting as the practice itself… Many a time my mood has done a U-turn for the better within 5minutes of teaching a class.
Screw green smoothies; when you’re on your 5th class of the day and have no idea what left and right is any more the only thing that really helps you get through it is chocolate.
Cake and coffee are the staple diets of most yoga teachers I know. Whenever we meet to swap notes, ideas and post-class/practice sweaty hugs, 99.99% of the time it is accompanied by a strong coffee and a sugar laden cake. Don’t be fooled by the green smoothie photos on social media. I reckon most of us practice asana to justify a wodge of cake a day.
That really, teachers are themselves dedicated students and are simply passing on a message from a long lineage of knowledge. We’re learning with you, we understand the sweat, tears, effort and courage it takes to get on your mat and try something new. In that sense, to see you at work is deeply inspiring and humbling to us. You’re our teachers.
So before you decide to become a yoga teacher think about whether you can afford a drastic pay cut, if you have the strength and determination to build your class up from nothing, that coffee and cake could be a staple part of your diet and that you’re willing to take a hit on your self-practice time (most teachers will profess they probably practice less once starting out teaching than they did as a student). It’s not an easy, green smoothie, practicing handstands on a tropical beach kind of lifestyle – it’s hard graft but when you see students work through a major physical/emotional barrier it is definitely worth all those hours of leafleting in the rain.