April marked my one-year anniversary as a certified yoga instructor. More unbelievable than the fact that students actually keep coming back is the fact that I keep waking up before 7 a.m. on the weekends.
In fact, teaching vinyasa yoga has become such a routine that when I go out of town I don’t consider it a vacation away from yoga. I miss it. I miss cueing downward dog and cracking silly jokes while my students humor me.
It’s easy to see why so many teachers devote their lives to full-time yoga instruction. Teaching is addictive.
I think back to my first month of classes and laugh. I underestimated my students, made my classes far too easy and over-explained poses until I was sure everyone was doing them without any outward signs of possible injury. Somewhere along the way I ditched my notes, became confident with adjustments and realized that I was learning more than just how to teach yoga.
1. You can communicate perfectly, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be heard.
Just because I’m paying attention doesn’t mean my students are. They’re lost in their thoughts or struggling in a posture and no matter how many times I tell them to put their feet under their hips, they’re ultimately going to place them however they want.
At first I was a total control freak about proper placement of every limb and gaze. Now, I realize that my students inherently know where they’re going and it’s my job to not get in their way.
2. It’s important to have a plan, but it’s OK to deviate from time to time.
When I auditioned to teach my first ever potential yoga class, I’m not ashamed to say I had a cheat sheet with me. I wrote down my sequences and practiced them several times aloud and in movement, but knew that if I showed up and didn’t bring the notecard, I’d likely forget or flub the flow.
It took about eight weeks for me to become comfortable with ditching the paper. Then, another four for me to start making things up on the fly.
Now, I write sequences in my mind, but rarely stick to them 100 percent. Instead of scripting the class, I go with my intuition and often cue based off what my students spontaneously do. This flexibility as a teacher, and as a human being, is paramount. Life and asana are a lot more fun when what’s next is a mystery to be uncovered.
3. The only person making you race against the clock is yourself.
Vinyasa yoga classes, moreso than other types of yoga, tend to move along quickly. One breath, one movement. This pressure to go go go – and my over-explanations at first – had me rattled. In my head, I thought my classes weren’t moving along quickly enough (or was it my mouth that wasn’t?).
All I had to do was listen to my students’ breath for a reality check. One person’s fast is another person’s slow. Once I stopped trying to race an invisible timepiece and tuned into my students, the class flow became much smoother and took on an appropriate pace.
4. Never be afraid to touch a stranger.
Until I became a yoga teacher, I wasn’t fully aware about my own patterns of how I show love to others. I tended to withhold affection, even with just touching someone on the shoulder or giving them a hug.
Over the past year, I’ve broken through this barrier because one requirement of being a successful yoga teacher is being able to physically adjust your students. So I dove right in and adjusted every class, continually asking about injuries and for feedback.
Now, I give head and shoulder rubs in svasana, press on sacrums to descend hips in balasana and guide arms into their full expression. One day, a regular stopped me after class and apologized that she was so sweaty, but that she’s glad I overlook it because the head rub feels so good! Everyone needs touch. But in order to receive, you first must give.
5. Everything is going to be OK.
Earlier this year, I sat in a room with a Buddhist monk and asked him what the ultimate realization of meditation is. It was an unfair question, in a way, because I already knew.
Samadhi, of course. I learned this from day one as a yoga teacher in training. We do yoga to prepare our bodies to sit for long periods in meditation. We meditate to reach ultimate bliss and connection with God. Done and done.
But the monk leaned forward and told me, “I feel like I should whisper this. I’m not going to actually whisper it, but I feel like that is how the words should be treated.” And then he paused, and looked me right in the eyes and said, “Meditation is the knowledge that everything is going to be okay.”
And it really is. No matter how many times I stumble over right and left leg, or run out of time or feel like I’m a broken record when teaching yoga, the reason I still show up week after week is this knowledge. I have the desire and ability to share this knowledge with others.
And so I do.