Dear New Yoga Teacher ~ Maya Devi Georg and Chris Kiran Aarya
You have just graduated from your yoga teacher training course!
While this means that someone certifies that you can teach a yoga class without killing anyone, in many cases, it simply means your check cleared…
Now, please don’t be offended, for we say this with love, but before you can be a real yoga teacher, you will first be a jerk. It’s ok! We’ve been assisting and leading teacher trainings for over 10 years and we have seen this happen to almost every trainee we have seen graduate. And, to be completely honest, we were jerks once too.
Here are a few tips to help you get past the jerk stage, and become an honest to god, real deal, good yoga teacher.
Realize You Don’t Know Everything
It’s very easy to think that all of yoga practice and philosophy was covered in your training. But, even if your program actually gave you 200 contact hours, that hardly begins to scratch the surface. Just because you were taught an asana one way does not mean there aren’t a million other variations and versions of the same pose that are just as safe.
Also realize that yoga philosophy is vast, with Indian, Buddhist, Jain, and even New Age interpretations of concepts some might call simple (but are actually subtle).
Keep taking classes from experienced and knowledgeable teachers. Know that one weekend workshop on any subject does not make you an expert. The purpose of workshops and teacher trainings is to get us started in our own personal practice. Keep studying, reading, and attending classes.
Being a Yoga Teacher Isn’t A Status, It Is An Honor
Some people are under the impression that being a yoga teacher is glamorous.
Sorry, we had to stop writing so we could have a good laugh.
Some people like the idea of being a yoga teacher more than they like the reality of it. Because when you teach yoga you’re more than just a teacher! You’re the receptionist, janitor, cashier, marketing and communications director, and more. All for wages well below he poverty line. Teaching yoga involves working early mornings, nights, and weekends. You don’t get health insurance or other benefits. You are almost always hired as a contractor so that it’s legal to pay you less than minimum wage. And here’s a fact few will share with you: It will take you years to earn back the money you spent on your teacher training.
Some students will treat you like an incompetent waiter, others will treat you like a stripper, and some might like and respect you. But just graduating from a teacher training does not make you a teacher. Teaching is not about your personal practice, nor is it a chance to be the center of attention. It’s about the students. Never forget that.
Yes, you are a teacher now, and maybe you’ve been teaching for a year or two… But do you really think you know as much as someone that has been practicing and teaching 10, 20, or 30 years? You don’t. So be humble and approach those senior teachers with respect and kindness and they will usually be happy to help you along by suggesting books and classes, and offering advice on the practice and business of yoga.
Also, just because you’ve become a yoga teacher does not mean you are ready to teach workshops and seminars. You’re ready to teach workshops when you’ve developed in-depth knowledge and experience of some aspect of the practice and are able to offer a meaningful 2-3 hours of instruction to transform your student’s practice. So you might want to know what a chakra actually is and does before teaching that “chakra balancing” workshop.
You Are not A Guru
Do you hate it when strangers come to your home and try to sell you their religion like a set of encyclopedias? Then don’t do it your friends and co-workers. Sure, yoga is great and everyone should do it! And of course you want to drum up business for your classes! But don’t push your beliefs on anyone else. Traditionally, a student approaches the teacher and asks to be accepted as a student – the teacher NEVER tries to collect students. Not through flattery or force. If someone wants to learn from you, they will come to you.
We have lost track of the number of new (and a few old) yoga teachers that try to act like our guru. This is wrong for so many reasons. A student-teacher relationship requires the consent of both parties so don’t assume you’ll be someone’s teacher and start offering unsolicited advice – its obnoxious.
Respect Your Students
First: Don’t sell crap to your students. As soon as you start to teach expect to be approached by someone telling how you can “boost your income” by selling energy powders, essential oils, detox kits, or other items to your students. Don’t Do It! Your students will lose respect for you if you try to sell them diet pills or some other useless “health product” on the margins of your class. Sure, some might buy it, but your relationship is forever changed from teacher-student to salesperson-client. Show them some respect and give them what they came for – a yoga class.
Second: Don’t Sleep With Your Students. Some students will feel so great after class that they will confuse the practice with the teacher. They will think that if your class is so good, then sex with you must be even better! And once you sleep with one of them, the entire class dynamic changes. It doesn’t matter how lonely you are or how much you both seem to “click,” there is a power imbalance between student and teacher. Taking advantage of that imbalance is creepy and unethical. If you and a student really want to explore having a relationship, then they can no longer be your student (and sometimes, that person may never see you as more than a teacher).
People come to yoga looking to transform, heal, or grow and it requires setting healthy boundaries. Honor and respect the trust they are placing in you, and know your own limitations . Those that seek change (or are trying to understand the changes already happening in their own lives) will lean on you, ask for help, and advice. Some might ask for medical diagnoses and treatments.
It is important to set strong boundaries – first with yourself. You are not a doctor. You are not a psychologist. You are not a physical therapist. You are not a guru.
You teach yoga.
Beware of Baby Panda Syndrome
Remember when a new baby panda is born at the zoo and everyone crowds in to have a look? The same thing happens at yoga studios when a new teacher is brought onboard – everyone wants to have a look and see what your class is like. It’s a sign that you have joined a good community that is giving you a fair chance.
So, after the first few classes it’s normal for your class numbers to go from a packed room to an average numbers of students, so don’t be discouraged. Enjoy your baby panda phase and keep learning and doing your best as thing settle into a more normal studio rhythm.
Not Every Student Will Like You, And That Is OK
Every student gets the teachers they need, just like every teacher gets the students they need. This means not every one will like you or your class, so try not to take it personally. People have different tastes, motivations, and levels of energy so someone who loves your class may not like someone else’s (and vice versa).
It’s not a numbers game, so don’t compare your class numbers with another teacher. Some longtime teachers have a following that has grown over many years, and some newer teachers may be drawing more students than you are (especially in the baby panda phase). None of this means anyone is a better teacher than anyone else.
Also, some people will not return to your class for reasons that have nothing to do with you, work schedules change, as do hobbies and habits. Its not about you, it’s about their preference so focus on the people who do come to your class.
Listen and be open to feedback from studio owners, senior teachers, your peers, and students and try not to take constructive criticism personally. By listening, learning, and applying what you’ve learned you’ll become a better teacher.
In the end, its not a popularity contest, a status, or a path to stardom. It’s about continuously learning and growing so you can give your students the best class you can every time. There will be times when you struggle and stumble on this journey but if stay open, diligent, and sincere – you’ll be a great teacher!