My truth about teaching yoga

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The internet is confettied with positive yoga-themed affirmations, messages of encouragement and stunning acrobatics from some of the planet’s most beautiful and bendiest bodies. There are yoga teachers, from novices to gurus, sharing their knowledge and empowering students to take to their mats in droves. And that’s a wonderful and positive thing.

Being a part of the yoga community is really special. Being a yoga teacher is an amazing privilege. But it hasn’t always been as smooth sailing and upbeat an experience for me as social media would have you believe is the norm. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

So I’m going to share, maybe even over share, because I like honesty and I think the internet, modern society, whatever you want to call it, encourages too many of us to lose sight of what’s real.

On the yoga teaching longevity spectrum, I’m relatively new to it all. People talk about the path to teaching yoga being a journey. For me it has been, and continues to be, more of an adventure – with twists, turns, highs and lows along the way.

I’ve been practicing yoga, with varying degrees of dedication, for around 16 years now. But the teaching game, and especially the business side of it, still holds uncharted territory for me.

I always thought it would be a thoroughly fulfilling way to do your bit to make the world even the tiniest bit more of a positive place – and it really is! I’ve got so much out of all the hours of teaching practice I’ve put in over the past year, from putting a couple of friends through their paces in my front room of a Tuesday evening to recording my teacher training video exam in another friend’s flat. I even had a practice run because the recording failed 15 minutes in the first time around! Can you believe it? Take two went without a hitch though, and I’m pleased to report that I passed.

Before I knew it, I had a regular gig teaching five or six lovely people in their seminar room at work every Friday lunchtime. That class continues to be one of the highlights of my week. I even drop in a little bit of pranayama and subtle philosophy now and then. It’s lovely to be able to help people step away from the challenges of their working day for an hour, to recalibrate and glide into the weekend feeling fabulous.

Teaching cover classes at a local gym has also turned out to be really enjoyable because you get such a wide range of amazing people in these classes, with a wide range of reasons for wanting to be there. I’ve had such lovely feedback from these groups too.

But it hasn’t all been a bed of roses. So what about the less good bits: the learning experiences? I’ve had a few.

When I first qualified, I set up a class that really didn’t turn out to be the roaring success that I’d planned for. I booked a hall, promoted the class on social media, and had about five or six people who said they’d like to come along to the first one. I was so determined for it to be a success, so you can imagine my disappointment when only three people showed up, two of whom were friends of friends who came along for moral support.

What went wrong? The issues began when I got so panicked about having enough mats and props that I ended up not being in a very good head space for the class. That afternoon, I had stalled my car at traffic lights, locked myself out of my house, and generally wondered what the hell I was thinking trying to pass myself off as a yoga teacher. Of the few months I kept that class going, I had a couple of people turn up. But I often showed up to an empty room, which really made me doubt myself and my ability.

There is a silver lining to this story though; I’m now working one to one with one of the women who came along to that class! And I’ve discovered that I love teaching on a one-to-one basis. I also now work one to one with the lovely woman who taught me First Aid when I first qualified.

It really is amazing what positive things can come from getting out into the world, being curious and talking to people, and it’s not always what you expect. I’ve relearned the old lesson that positives can often come out of negatives – but maybe not immediately. Patience is key.

It was a soul-destroying contract job that gave me the final push I needed to sign up to Sally Parkes’s 200-hour Laxmi Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training course. It’s wonderful, by the way, if you’re thinking of taking the next step in your yoga practice.

You could say I have a lot to thank that job for. I’m a qualified yoga teacher – yay! Choosing to do that course is right up there with the best decisions I’ve ever made. And I’ll happily take a few lows in among the highs of teaching yoga because they’re all opportunities to learn and get better at what I do.

What other learning experiences and challenges have I had along the way?

I’ve had a fire alarm go off intermittently throughout a class. I’ve had to cancel a class due to the space being unsuitable. The empty class thing was definitely one of the hardest things to deal with to begin with, except for one other situation, which I had totally underestimated before I started teaching.

Picture the scene: you’ve come along to teach a regular group class, and just one student has turned up.

Let’s start with a positive example. In one case, I led the loveliest practice for the only woman who came along to a gentle flow class. She had a mild, pre-existing knee injury, so we modified and switched out poses. It turned out to be a really enjoyable hour of yoga for both of us. She left feeling calm and content, which left me feeling like I’d given her the high-quality yoga experience she’d come to class to receive. I really think our blend of personalities had so much to do with why this class was such a success.

On the flipside, I’ve ended up in an unintentional one-to-one with a strong personality who didn’t think they needed any guidance. In this case, my student seemed to pre-empt my instructions, which resulted in quite a bit of confusion. Having people who do this in a group class is fine because there are other people there who do want your help to focus on. One to one, it’s a bit different.

The biggest struggle I had with this situation was feeling like the other person wasn’t having a good experience in my class. I was aware that they probably felt just as uncomfortable as I did, if not more so. My style of yoga just didn’t suit what they were looking for. And I have to learn to be ok with that.

I focus on synchronising movement with breath to gracefully create space in the mind and the body. I’m not about trying to create ‘perfect’ asana shapes in a fast-paced, sweaty session. That’s not to say you’ll leave my class feeling like you haven’t worked for your lunch or dinner.

If you fancy trying out my style of teaching, you’ll find me at Studio iO, 3 Queen’s Place, Brighton on Mondays at 1 pm. It’s a 45-minute class so it’ll fit nicely into your lunch break.

Get in touch if you’d like to talk about booking me to bring yoga to your workplace or working one to one.