This blog post is a continuation of ‘Yoga and the Fear of Visibility’, focusing more on yoga teachers.
Are you making the transition from anxious yoga student to being The Teacher?
It’s hard, but it’s not impossible! If you have been used to keeping a low profile in the corner of a class, doing your thing and then sneaking out with as little fuss as possible, moving to be front and centre can be incredibly daunting. The certificate that says you are a teacher doesn’t come with a magic potion that makes you feel cool, calm and collected when you actually come to teach real people. Your fellow trainees are real people, but you know what I mean.
You might find yourself wondering how you will cope with all eyes on you and a room full of bodies and minds to navigate through a practice without disaster. The thing is though, just as we know yoga is a practice, so is teaching. You’ve just got to start somewhere. And it doesn’t need to be perfect the first time, or any time after that.
Or perhaps you’ve been teaching yoga for a while and get The Fear regularly.
Teaching isn’t easy for many reasons, but if it were it would be boring, right?! It might get more familiar or feel smoother or more comfortable with time, but there will probably always be situations that still feel really freakin’ hard, and that’s OK. Ask yourself ‘did anybody die?’ and assuming the answer is no, the chances are you’ve delivered a good class to at least one person, and that’s enough. You can’t be everything to everybody but if you can be something for somebody then you’re doing alright.
Stepping out of the shadows can be terrifying, but it doesn’t need to be.
Butterflies are fine, body-shaking dread is perhaps less so. Here are some things I’ve discovered so far about teaching that have helped me overcome The Fear and tackle imposter syndrome, at least some of the time. I’m practicing.
- Try to practice regularly without thinking ‘how would I teach this?’. Close your eyes, put on death metal music, practice a style you don’t teach – do anything to switch that part of your brain off so you can still enjoy yoga for yourself.
- Plan or don’t plan. Plan if it makes you feel more relaxed, don’t plan if you worry constantly about missing a bit out and then it all falling apart. You are not a bad person or a bad teacher if you don’t plan your sequence, playlist or outfit.
- Trust in what you already know and accept there will always be more to learn. A lot of us are drawn to yoga because of the endless possibilities it presents, so be excited rather than daunted by this.
- You have enough inside of you to teach well. Don’t assume you will only be a good teacher, or any kind of teacher, when you have done x other training or can do a certain pose perfectly (whatever that means).
- Take any opportunity to cover or teach in different places to learn what you do and don’t like, but monitor your energy levels and don’t feel obliged to take everything that comes your way. Yoga teacher burnout is a real thing.
Arriving at the teaching space
- Get there with enough time for a nervous toilet trip or to have a quick flap if it makes you feel better.
- If possible, but be the first in and position your mat where you are comfortable leading from. Do you want to be near the sound system or the light switches, or away from mirrors?
- It’s OK to direct students how to position their mats, even if it’s different from what they normally do. If you get funny looks, make a joke and don’t fret that you’ve upset people.
- Adjust the lights and temperature if possible and appropriate to do so. A lot of spaces (mostly multi-purpose studios rather than yoga specific) will have a fixed temperature you can’t do anything about. It might be too warm or too cold so have a strategy in your back pocket for warming people up or cooling them down, even if that means diverting from The Plan.
Starting the class
- Introduce yourself and smile so the students know you are not a teacher robot. Thank them for coming.
- Make a joke about the weather or something if you are getting a lot of hard blank stares – it does happen. They might be just as nervous as you are (and not because of you, see previous blog post).
- Give a brief summary of how you teach/what you are focusing on etc. to help you focus and your students feel prepared.
During the class
- You will merge words (think knees and hips becoming nips – awkward), confuse left and right and completely forget one pose on one side at least once in your teaching career. Unless your career lasts one class and it’s perfect. Nobody (including you) will die as a result of this. I rely a lot on humour but if you are more serious have another deflection strategy.
- Don’t feel glued to your mat and that you have to perform or demonstrate everything. Verbal cues can be just as if not more helpful, as students aren’t constantly looking up to check what you are doing. This takes practice, funnily enough.
- If you are freaking out and can’t remember who you are or what you are doing, instruct everyone to close their eyes. It gives you a moment to compose yourself and also has the added benefit of seeming very yogic.
At the end/after the class
- Close the class in a way that feels good for you. You are not obliged to om or say namaste or sing or do anything that feels unnatural. The students will pick up on it if you feel awkward. You might want to do something slightly different each time depending where you are.
- Be open to feedback and people asking questions so don’t run off or hide as people are leaving, if possible.
- Students will sometimes want to thank you or ask advice and this can feel nice so don’t assume people are only approaching because they want to complain (as I did early on).
- If someone does have a complaint or criticism acknowledge it and then forget about it. You are not a bad person or a bad teacher if someone says something negative.
As with the previous blog post about fear this is not intended to be exhaustive and will not apply to everyone in every situation.
What strategies do you use to keep calm and teach? Let me know!