I’ve been teaching yoga for about two months now, isn’t that crazy?
Anyway, teaching has been going really well. I work at an awesome community center at 5:45am on Fridays, which is very early, but it’s a wonderful way to start the day. The women I teach leave feeling empowered and I leave feeling energized. Serving as a yoga instructor is all that I thought it would be, and more. I’m so grateful to be able to teach, especially because yoga job opportunities seemed bleak when I graduated.
While I love teaching yoga, I’ve come across a few challenges in the last two months that I want to explore. I’d like to find some solutions so if any of you have suggestions, please comment below!
Some Challenges of Being a New Yoga Instructor
1. Engaging with students
I feel hypocritical to acknowledge this yet also self-aware, but I have somehow fallen into the trap of doing what I’ve criticized yoga teachers for doing, which you can read in this previous post. To summarize, I don’t know my students’ names and lately, I haven’t been offering individualized modifications.
I learned to teach yoga without using my own mat so I would do minimal demonstrations. Now, I bring my mat with me and I tend to find myself hovering on it rather than walking around and looking at my students’ bodies. Last week I left my mat at home to hinder me from demonstrating, but I still had a difficult time engaging with my students.
Perhaps I feel dissuaded from offering individualized modifications since the last few times I did it, one student, in particular, was resistant to it and basically ignored me. This isn’t an excuse not to offer modifications to other students though. This week I aspire to look at bodies more closely so I can make recommendations.
In regards to not knowing my students’ names…I just need to learn them. I excused myself for a while for not knowing their names because the class is so early in the morning and people aren’t particularly talkative or because nobody seemed to be a regular. Now, I finally have a group of regulars and there are only four peoples’ names I don’t know. I will learn them this week.
2. Connecting to the local yoga community
I’m unsure how to resolve this other than getting a membership at a local studio. To be honest, I don’t want to do that because yoga memberships are expensive and I don’t know how much I’d use it since my schedule is so volatile these days. I have a membership at the community center I work at and I barely go as it is!
I’d love to connect with the yoga community where I work but it’s difficult to do so because I teach so early in the AM so no other teachers or students are present. Most of the yoga classes at the community center are later in the morning, which so far has been when I’m working. They also don’t have classes later than 7pm and during my last job, I was still working at that time. Once I have a regular schedule I can probably figure out how to attend yoga classes at the center regularly. Until then, I think I have to rely on an online yoga community and the community I create with my students.
3. Integrating spirituality into classes
Since I’m not working at a yoga studio, there isn’t much spiritual integration in yoga classes I’ve attended at the community center. This is a little frustrating since I’ve become more interested in the spiritual nature of Yoga rather than the physical practice. Currently, I don’t even “Om” in class. I hope to integrate this by the end of the year and then teach classes that incorporate the chakras. More research is necessary to do this but I think it’d be awesome!
4. Maintaining a strong personal practice
As a result of limited community class availability, as well as dealing with my own hectic schedule, it has become difficult to maintain my own daily practice.
Oh, an injury has discouraged me from maintaining a daily practice too. I somehow injured my right hip flexor about two weeks ago, which was extremely painful and debilitating for over a week. The pain woke me up in the middle of the night and I had to pick up my leg to get into the car…it was horrible. The pain is minimal now, but the muscle is still tender and healing, so I have to be extra cognizant of how I feel during my practice.
I would be less upset by the sudden inconsistency of my practice if I at least meditated and/or journaled instead, but I find that if I don’t do the Asana, I rarely take the initiative to do the more spiritual work.
A yoga community would help foster a regular and strong yoga practice, which is super important to have as a teacher. The classes I take from others, whether that be via YouTube, an app, or in the presence of a teacher, inspire the classes that I teach. Due to the weakening of my yoga practice, I have not been as inspired as I’d like to be. I’ve actually become a little jaded with the classes that I do teach because I struggle with switching classes up. Since I’m not working now, I need to carve out time weekly to take yoga classes from others. Whenever I do resume working, I will have to determine how to continue a strong practice.
5. Continuing the study of Yoga
I believe that continuing to study Yoga, and by that I mean the Eight Limbs of Yoga, excluding Asana, is the most important activity a yoga teacher should do. Yes, I can learn more about the other limbs by taking classes, but I think learning is done more effectively when you’re studying traditionally, ie reading lots of books.
I have at least two Yoga books I want to finish reading, one of which is all about the chakras so that would be useful for the chakra series I want to teach. I have other Yogic books I want to read when I finish those two books too…it’s just a matter of carving out the time to read them.
It’d also be helpful if I had a yoga mentor to sit and talk with too. One of the yoga teachers that ran the training is local to me so maybe I’ll reach out to her to talk about the Sutras or something.
So…I suppose that even when you “graduate” from yoga teacher training, or from University, or from anything…there is always more learning to do. Being an expert in anything is a lot of work because the world is always changing thus there is always more to learn about the present in addition to the past.
It’s helpful that I spent some time to write about the challenges I have as a teacher because this helps to hold myself accountable. Again, I’d love any suggestions anyone has to offer too!
I’m finally resting my head on my pillow after a long day in the city. It was a great day, don’t get me wrong, but it was also long.
I went to the city to teach a community class at the studio I graduated from. I wasn’t very nervous; in fact, I was calm and I felt prepared, unlike how I felt when I auditioned to sub at a studio local to me. Because I was auditioning at that time, I was so nervous about how the studio owners were going to like my class. I had also not taught people aside from my mom in a month.
Well, that audition went well and I’m now on their sub list. My community class in the city went well too, but something happened that inspired me to write this post.
The community class I led consisted of five people, one of them being my darling girlfriend. All of the students were engaged and connecting their breath to their movements, which was awesome. I made adjustments, offered props, and I provided a ton of verbal support. Everyone seemed to enjoy the class, especially because they were all smiling at the end and thanked me several times. Well, everyone except for one student who had spent a majority of the class disregarding my instruction.
First of all, one does not have to do every single thing a teacher says to do. If you are tired, you are welcome to rest. If something hurts, which it shouldn’t, but if it does, you can get out of a pose. You don’t have to do the hardest version of a pose either, you can do modifications that are offered.
I feel like these are the general guidelines for how students act in a class. One student in my community class, as I said before, did not behave in this manner.
I offered her a prop to more safely do a pose, but she quickly moved it away from her the second I took a step back. I then said that there is nothing wrong with probs, I use them all of the time. I should have added that the props are there to support you and to allow you to come into the true form of pose that is right for your body. Even if I did say that though, I don’t know if it would have made a difference. She hardly touched the props.
For the inversion, I instructed everyone to put their legs up the wall and to release their hands by their sides. She had her arms crossed the entire time, which to me is an uptight gesture.
During the entire class, she added some of her own poses that made things a little more challenging. Some of them were minor while others were a little more noticeable, such as doing dancer when that was not part of the class. Her decision to add her own poses was most notable during the final stretches and savasana though. She did her own stretches, completely disregarding my instruction, and she never took savasana. At one point I thought she was going to do an inversion. The old camp counselor/tennis instructor in me walked up to her and advised her not to go upside down. She claimed she was stretching so I moved on and focused on the people who were participating in my class, but it was so unexpected. I felt like I was chastising a kid rather than an adult in her twenties, or possibly even older.
This experience caused me to remember what the “capital-Y Yoga” is really about.
Yoga is not about pushing yourself during every class to go the deepest in a pose. Yoga is also not about being able to do the hardest poses.
I’m a teacher, although a new one, but I’m not flexible nor can I do most advanced poses. I don’t really enjoy inversions and the tendinitis in my elbow from my tennis-playing days makes arm balances really uncomfortable. I don’t do chaturanga because it requires a ton of arm strength I don’t yet have, and it also flares up my tendinitis.
Basically, I’m not the typical example of a yoga teacher because I can’t or I don’t do the “fancy” poses. You won’t see me post a photo of myself doing a deep backbend or an arm balance right now, but I’m okay with that. That mentality is part of the true, “capital-Y Yoga.”
On the first day of my yoga training, one of my instructors said:
Yoga is about getting with what is.
In the case of what my body is capable of, I am content with what my body can do during a yoga practice. I focus on what I can do, rather what I cannot. Besides, I don’t have to be able to do all of the hard poses to be able to teach them. Plus, I am grateful that I’m even able to do the asana yoga practice because I’m able-bodied.
It is worth noting, however, that the asana practice is only the third limb from the bottom of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. In other words, the asana practice is not the most important part of the “capital-Y Yoga.”
Lastly, and maybe most importantly about the practice of Yoga, if you can do all of the hardest asanas but you are a jerk, you are not doing the real Yoga. You’re just doing gymnastics.
The student in my community class, while she was or wasn’t doing the real Yoga is besides the point…what I think is important though is whether I was doing the real Yoga.
I feel like I did practice the real Yoga because I was patient and accepting of her and I ensured that she was safe. I taught her what I knew and I supported her to the best of my abilities. As a new teacher who does not have a rapport with the students because this was the only time I taught them, I believe I did all that I could do.
Plus, I don’t know her situation. As my girlfriend pointed out, maybe she can’t afford more challenging classes, or maybe she doesn’t want to pay for it. Perhaps she has an inability to relax and surrender. It’s possible her yoga practice is the only area of her life where she feels competent, so by me offering props, she felt I was insulting her. On the other hand, maybe she is a perfectionist and believes she is a failure if she uses props.
Basically, there are tons of possibilities as to why someone would focus so much on doing poses how they think they should look as well as not participating in the relaxing and surrendering portion of the class. That is not my business though. If she was a regular, I would definitely spend a little more time with her to get to know her, but that is not the case unfortunately.
This student also reminded me that everyone comes to Yoga from a different place. For me, I was attracted to Yoga as another form of exercise, but one that provides coping mechanisms for anxiety and grief. For others, it may be because their partner is doing it, because it’s trendy, because they want to lose weight, because they want to become more flexible, etc. I don’t know what that student’s reason for doing yoga, but it seemed that she was interested more moving rather than staying still. People come to yoga for all different reasons, but they may fall in love with the philosophy and spirituality of Yoga, as I did.
So…I hope that the student I had eventually finds the “capital-Y Yoga.” I also hope that you learned a little bit of what Yoga is, and perhaps you can take some of this knowledge into your own lives by honoring and getting with what is.
I’ve made it my goal to practice yoga daily, and so far, I’ve maintained it! It’s been…over thirty-one consecutive days. I’m not sure how many more days than thirty-one…perhaps it’s only been thirty-one days…but regardless, I’ve been practicing it daily for the entirety of January, and possibly in the tail-end of December.
Right now, I’m practicing it when I wake up, which isn’t always early. I try my hardest to get up at 7am but I end up reading the news on my phone, snoozing for a little longer, or I don’t know what I do, but I end up practicing around 8am, and sometimes later like at 11am. I’m trying to practice in the early morning though because according to Light on Yoga, a great book I’ve been reading and using to foster my practice, yoga must be practiced either in the early morning or in the late evening.
Light on Yoga has been a great, informative book because it provides a background to the practice as well as pictures and step by step instructions for pretty much every asana I’ve encountered since I began my practice in late August. Additionally, it includes yoga practices for various ailments one may have and it has courses to develop the skills necessary to improve, strengthen, and deepen your practice. It’s an excellent book. I’ve taken some notes on the book so I will publish what I’ve learned at some point because I think it’s important to know. Some yoga practices have completely appropriated it, and I think it’s important to know the roots of it.
Also, I am looking for other books about yoga that provide insight into the culture and history of the practice. If anyone has suggestions, please let me know!
Anyway…yes so my practice has been great in the month of January! I had my girlfriend take some photos of me to see my improvement. I’m not going to post them here right now, but I will. I want to incorporate more photos into my blog.
The cool thing about photos and about having her take them is that I didn’t realize until she told me, and showed me, that I was doing the “down dog” pose wrong. My back was super arched and my knees were bent so…I worked on it a bit and now I can do it properly.
Initially, my yoga goals were to achieve crow pose and wheel pose, but my right wrist is quite weak from playing tennis for several years prior to college, so I am going to work on doing a split and wheel pose. This week I’ve been working on stretching my hamstrings, and there has been a significant improvement, but there is still a long way to go. I have barely attempted back flexibility because I have several fears surrounding it…but I am working on it. Just more slowly.
The last thing I want to share is that I am considering either attending a Yoga Teacher Training or a Yoga Retreat! Since I will be graduating in a couple of months, I would like to take that opportunity to expand my practice. I’ll update y’all if this idea comes to fruition!