A few weeks ago, I asked the people in my Facebook group on anatomy as well as my Facebook page, “What topics are you concerned about when it comes to yoga teaching?” One of the themes that came up a few times was the theme of building confidence as a teacher.
Now, truth be told, I have vivid memories of me, in my first year or so of teaching, being terrified of making a mistake, not knowing how to interact with students, being concerned about how I was coming across and in one case, literally leaving index cards around the room with notes on the sequence so I could use them as cue cards! I taught at a studio in Boston and used to sit in my car for half an hour before class, petrified to go in.
When you’re a new teacher, it’s pretty common to be nervous and to have that translate to a lack of confidence. There are those rare new teachers though, and I’ve seen them, that have such confidence that they stand in front of the room, showing themselves to all without wavering and in fact, chuckling at themselves if they make a mistake! It’s the most refreshing thing ever and something I’ve always been jealous of because I wish I had that deep well of confidence.
For many of us, though, it’s trial and error. When we’re feeling strong in our day to day life, we might be stronger and more confident in our teaching. When we return from a teacher training, we might move more confidently in our teaching because we’re filled with new knowledge and inspiration. But most of the time, we need to depend on ourselves to create that sense of foundation and from that foundation often comes the confidence we seek. Here are some tips for building more confidence as a teacher:
Remember that your perspective is almost always skewed. We’re the hardest on ourselves and most often, our perception of “how things went” when we teach is completely different than our students’ impressions. I have many early teaching memories where I felt as if the class went horribly wrong and students would come up afterwards and say, “Thanks! That was a great class!” I’d walk home shaking my head but over time, I realized that I’m the harshest critic on my own teaching and for most students, they’re just grateful you are there, guiding them through the practice.
Always be learning. Confidence is indeed part gut instinct but it also comes from a deep well of knowledge. The path of a yoga teacher starts out with 200 hour training but it must continue with additional training, online learning, taking classes, assisting in classes, reading books, and seeking out other teachers beyond our original mentor. As your knowledge increases, you build a greater sense of confidence because you feel better equipped to support the process. One of my main goals in my business is the ongoing building of an online resource library loaded with information to help teachers build their knowledge. I do this via online resources because quite frankly, it’s so expensive to invest in only in-person training and completely unaffordable for most yoga teachers (credit card, anyone?) So, I have spent the better part of the last 3 years developing blog posts, webinars, books and online courses all designed to build teacher knowledge and in the process, build their confidence. Look for as many resources as you can to build your knowledge and your confidence will grow.
Develop your own voice. Because the path of a teacher often starts out by leaning on a mentor to learn the ropes, it’s only over time that we are able to move past that and find our own way. I can say for myself, once I started to do this, to really own my own teaching style, method of teaching, assisting and cueing, I built more confidence. It’s natural to mimic your mentor, to be inspired by your mentor and in the early days, to take what they say and run with it. But if, after a few years of teaching, you haven’t started to develop your own voice, your own sequencing, cueing and even understanding of the “whys” behind what you do, it can be helpful to take a step back and ask yourself, “What’s holding me back from really making teaching my own?”
Do this: You know how a child asks questions all the time? Things like, “Why is the sky blue?” “Where do babies come from?” and things like this? Well, bring your child’s mind to your teaching. Pretend you’re getting questions from students like, “Why do you ask us to stack the knee over the heel in Warrior 1?” “Why don’t we start with backbends in class?” “Is it true that twisting poses will detox us? If not, why do you say that?” These are all valid questions and for many teachers, they’ve accepted the rationale of their mentor when it comes to everything, rather than taking that input, and then qualifying it through their own research. When you do this, you develop your own voice, your own rationale and your own approach. Yes, some things are based on factual knowledge (anatomy related things for instance) but one of the hardest things for new teachers to accept is that for many things in yoga, there is no “right” way. There is more of an approach, based on who’s teaching the class. So, in part, your confidence comes from the base of knowledge you have and the rationale you have for teaching the way you do (meaning, your cues, sequencing, etc.).
Keep things in perspective: Remember, in the big scheme of things, this is just a drop in the bucket. I had dinner the other night with a few people at a golf club. I sat at a table with people in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. We got into a discussion about the tendency to let things get under your skin ( a big no-no in golf). One of the older people at the table said, “You know, the older I get, the more I realize that all that stuff that bugged me when I was younger was just a waste of time.”
Amen to that. We might think how we present is everything. Of course, we want to be professional and take it seriously; that’s not what I’m saying. It’s more that we have to put it in perspective. We’re teaching a yoga class. We show up. We lead with the intention to be of service. We stay focused. We speak clearly. We stick to the process from beginning to end. And that’s it. It doesn’t have to be perfect and never will be. It’s one yoga class in a sea of all the other experiences in life. Our confidence can be strengthened by our faith in the fact that it’s just one part of our life and our student’s lives and not everything.
Have a process and have faith that over time, your confidence will grow.
If you’re looking for ways to build your knowledge of anatomy, my online class on Vimeo is loaded with anatomical tips; much more than you’d get in a regular class. You can pick it up for just $10 here.
Thanks for reading!