It’s not too far over a year since I began paid yoga teaching work. With a sprinkle of good luck and a lot of effort and determination I’ve since taught in three countries, at an island resort, in studios, gyms, corporate offices, a yoga shop, a retreat and festival. I’ve taught hundreds of people, aged from 4 to 80, and been pleasantly surprised by the warmth, gratitude and openness of nearly all of them.
I am incredibly thankful that I’ve discovered a vocation that brings me alive and connects me to others, yet I’ve also found this path hugely challenging and it still brings new demands for me to face my fears and build my resilience. If you’re finding becoming a yoga teacher a daunting task, or if you’re doubting yourself as you face any new venture, I hope these tips and experiences help you to move beyond your fears and enjoy stepping into something new.
After completing my teacher training the vastness of Yoga dawned on me and I felt less prepared than ever to start teaching. I turned to the internet for advice and I found everything that a yoga teacher can do wrong. I wasn’t confident about standing up in front of a group of strangers, and yet the pull to teach was strong. At a Sydney yoga festival I spoke to Duncan Peak, (one of Australia’s most famous yoga teachers) about feeling unsure that I was ready to teach and he told me emphatically to start. You can begin teaching friends and family, you can run free or donation classes, but the best way to develop any skill is through practice.
I made my start to teaching particularly challenging by moving to a country where I had no yoga connections and basing myself in an area brimming over with yoga teachers. I have called, emailed and visited countless gyms, studios and other venues. Twice I took test classes and I was told that although they liked my teaching style and I had potential, they didn’t think I was ready to teach their clients. At the time I was gutted, but with hindsight they were right. One was a small group of advanced yogis and another was a hardcore gym with classes of around 40 people - I was still finding my feet and working out what I had to offer. I had to keep practicing and seek out the students that were right for me. Classes can have low attendance and individuals may not like your style, all you can do is your best, listen to the feedback and remind yourself that you are learning, no matter how much experience you have.
Remain a student
Yoga teachers agree that the 200 hours qualification is really just the basics. My month long immersion left many knowledge gaps that I wanted to fill. I avidly read books, seek out online tutorials and articles and although costly, I have taken extra courses in anatomy and physiology, adjustments, and to teach yin yoga and meditation. Guidance from senior teachers is invaluable, if you don't already have one, try to find a mentor through your connections. When I moved to a new area I made contact with an established teacher by offering to teach her cover classes.
Don’t be afraid to take a break and get your inner house in order
A few months into teaching a couple of opportunities fell through and my personal life hit a bump in the road. I didn’t feel at my most calm or confident so I decided to take a hiatus from pursuing teaching work and to focus back on the pleasure of my own practice. Our society celebrates progress and achievement, but this can lead us to push too hard for what we want rather than letting life flow in its own time. After a couple of months I returned to teaching with renewed enthusiasm and things started to fall into place. Teaching yoga isn’t easy unless you feel calm and emotionally secure, so take the time to explore your own vulnerabilities and triggers first.
Nerves and lack of confidence can feel a real hindrance, but they are very common, especially in the early days of teaching, in a new environment, or if you feel you are being assessed. I find it helpful to remember that I am just sharing my practice, I do not need to do anything more than that. We are full of contradictions so be compassionate and patient with your nervous side, whilst also drawing out the confident person inside you. The start of the class is a great opportunity to calm yourself as well as your students, close your eyes and slow your breath if you feel anxious, you can even take child’s pose with everyone.
Balance stability and courage
Teaching yoga isn’t an easy or particularly secure way to earn a living and I currently have an alternative income four days a week. After I qualified I was travelling and working abroad and dabbled with various ways to boost my yoga earnings, but I found that having the stability of a routine job and regular income can make teaching yoga more free and playful. Yet it’s necessary to take some risks to achieve success, so make space in your life for the new to move in.
Get out there
Having a clear target audience and a niche approach can help you succeed, particularly if you live in an area with lots of yoga classes, but these can take time to identify. In the meantime it can be fun to try different things and connect with as many people as possible (online too). I've enjoyed holding donation classes in my local park through meetup.com which attract lots of beginners and has widened my local network.
Developing my skills and experiences as a yoga teacher has been hugely satisfying, and forced me to examine myself and grow as a person. I'm sure there are many more surprises down the road, I'd love to hear anyone else's advice for the journey ahead.