Every day, I read another article about the yoga industry (granted, my social media feed is filled with them). One day, it’s an article about a celebrity who’s decided that “yoga is her thing” and she’s going to create her own line of clothes (of course, fully sponsored by an established brand) and the next day, it’s an article about how social media is full of self-centered yogi’s who don’t know anything about the roots of yoga. There’s a whole bunch of content in between but all I can say is that I’m pretty psyched that I found my own way as a teacher before yoga got crushed by social media (and I don’t mean that in a good way).
Now, let me say that there IS some really good content out there; articles about yoga anatomy, different ways to apply yoga to different groups, inspiring stories about how yoga has changed someone’s life or motivated them to make a positive change in their community. But for the newer yoga teacher, what about all the other stuff out there? And, the images! Just search “yoga” on Instagram and prepare to be inundated with more images than your brain can process. In the midst of all of this are the teachers, especially the new teachers, who are trying to find their voice, find their way and establish themselves. And, on top of that, let’s not forget the more experienced teachers; it’s not just the new teachers who might be effected by the images and the content. It’s just a bit easier to stick to your way because you’ve been doing it for a while.
So, what’s a yoga teacher to do to find his or her authentic way, despite all the input from various sources? Here’s a quick list of ideas:
Decide what style of yoga you’re going to teach and for now, stick to that. Don’t be swayed by images, content or comments about your teaching and change to try to be popular. Stick to what you were taught, what originally inspired you and get really good at teaching in that way.
What does this mean? Well, let’s say you originally invested in a 200 hour training and walked away with a particular sequence as part of the training. This was the sequence you were trained with and might even be the sequence you were practicing before you started the training. My suggestion is to stick with that sequence as a new teacher. Resist the urge to change things up every class or every week or even do that thing that we sometimes do, “This is the theme for the week” and theme all your classes for a particular week around a particular anatomical, spiritual or other kind of theme. Sometimes it’s helpful to stick with a solid, overall sequence and leave yourself the necessary space to manage ALL the other things that come up when you’re teaching.
Use simple, succinct, clear instructions.
Stay away from complex phrases. Stick with clear action words. Worry less about those articles warning you “not to use this kind of phrasing” and stick to simple phrases that carry less risk of confusing people or tempting them to “go too far”. Perfect example: Instead of saying “rolling up to standing one vertebrae at a time” just say, “Come up to standing.” Clear, short, action oriented.
Think about what you stand for as a yoga teacher. Write it down. It might be how someone would describe you as a teacher. It might be how they’d describe your class. Write it down so you can look back on it.
I promise, over the years, your teaching will change. You’ll change the sequences, you’ll change how you cue, you might add in more assisting, you might change the focus of your teaching. I know for me, I shifted a great deal from teaching as a way to “coach people” as well as provide a physical practice and shifted pretty much entirely to teaching from the structural, anatomical aspects of the practice. Again, your way might be different. Maybe you love the spiritual aspects of the practice. Maybe you know a great deal about chakras and the energy systems in the body. Maybe, like me, you love anatomy and feel that’s a helpful style to teach. Whatever your style is, own it and stick with it, at least for a time. If you do decide to make changes, be clear about why you’re doing it. What’s the motivation?
Think about what images or content on social media gives you a funny feeling in your stomach and stop looking at those images.
By “funny feeling” I think you know what I mean. You might regularly see posts from a yoga related website and their articles always seem to get you riled up. You might see certain images on IG and feel “less than” or jealous. Maybe not. Maybe you’ve got a really strong self image and nothing bothers you. All I’m suggesting is that if you are negatively effected by things you see on social media, do something to take control back. Look at things that are positive for you. Read content that informs you and expands your knowledge. Use social media as a way to expand your network and community but not as a way to tempt you to change who you are as a teacher to try to chase some fleeting idea of what it means to be popular.
Find a mentor.
Find a teacher that you can connect with regularly to share questions about teaching. That’s one thing that really concerns me about the industry; it can be pretty isolating. Sure, there are tons of training programs out there but often, teachers attend trainings that are not close to where they live. They take the training and then are off on their own. Others take 200 hour training programs that are part of a larger network of affiliated teachers. This can be a great set up because even if you attended training someplace else, when you get home, you can connect with local teachers that traveled to take that training too. If none of these scenarios is applicable, find a teacher in one of the studios where you teach or practice. Ask him or her to tea or lunch. Or maybe just connect with them after class. See if they’re willing to work with you in some way. Perhaps re-contact the teacher who led your 200 hour training and ask the same thing. Mentors are teachers who have been teaching longer than you and can be a great sounding board to help you as you develop as a teacher. They can also help you weed through the external input and focus on what matters.
At the foundation of it all is to remember why you went into teaching in the first place. What drove you to take that first teacher training? What’s your primary motivation? What kind of teacher do you want to be? How do you want to make an impact and in what areas? If we can stay connected to that aspect of our teaching and share from that, there’s little temptation to be swayed when we see what others are doing. It’s when we’re unclear as to why we started teaching in the first place that we might be changing paths left and right.
Teaching in an authentic way often means you have to know yourself. That comes with age to a certain extent but it also comes, at least in my own life, from being quiet and just breaking out of the cycle of constant outside “noise” that seems to be a steady stream for all of us, every day. Maybe you journal. Maybe you meditate. Maybe you practice yoga in silence. Maybe you disconnect from social media every day at a certain time. Whatever it is, find time to be with yourself. Explore who you are. Get to know YOU and know you well. The more you do, the better you’ll teach.
Thanks for reading.