Lessons Learned in My First Year of Teaching

The culmination of both the new year and the finish of my six month long 500 hour teacher training through YogaWorks has caused a double whammy of reflection as of late.  At the end of the month my happy yoga bubble, full of fellow newbie teachers, mentors, and yoga friends, will burst and I’ll be thrust out into the unknown on my own.   Though I’ve been teaching since the end of my initial training last January, I’ve been mostly (and happily) occupied by workshop obligations, taking classes, assisting classes, meeting with my mentor and fellow mentees, and lots and lots of reading, reflection, and at home practice.   My training has been directing my path for the last year, but come February I’ll find myself fully planted in the driver’s seat.  Yikes!  It’s all at once terrifying and exciting.  Am I ready for the road?  And, hey, where’s the map?!

As I reflect on 2013 and my first year of teaching I can’t help being confronted with the many lessons I’ve learned along the way.   I left the comfort and stability of my full time job, became my own boss, learned from my most admired teachers, taught my first classes (with lots of gulps and deep breaths before and after…), lead workshops exploring the relationship between acupuncture and yoga, assisted enormous outdoor classes in Bryant Park, got my very first weekly class on the schedule at Yoga & Pilates in Tribeca (thank you lovely yogis!), became certified and honored to teach mommas-to-be, and learned more about myself in a year than I have in the past five.  In no particular order, here are my top ten “Life of a Yoga Teacher” lessons learned in 2013:

1.     First and foremost, there is no map

2.     Learning to teach is like learning a new language, and having the same expectation is important.  Don’t expect to be fluent after a year, and know that the only way to truly learn is full immersion.  Getting the words out is always the hardest part for me, whether it’s yoga, French, Portuguese, or most recently, Hebrew.  Your insecurities get the best of you and even if you’ve learned the vocabulary, stringing them into comprehensive sentences is something else entirely.  So teach often, to whomever is willing to listen.  Even if it’s just you and your mat having a conversation in your living room. 

3.     Don’t expect your friends to be as interested in what you’re doing as you are.  If they like you, they’ll try, but steer clear of trying to convert anyone.  Most of the time, they just don’t get it, and that’s OK.  Which brings me to my next doozy of a lesson…

4.     Be prepared for judgment.  From yourself and from others.  Quitting your full-time job to pursue something as unstable as teaching yoga will seem crazy to most people, and will probably even leave you wondering yourself at times.  The fluff of the average New Yorker’s “Where do you live?/What do you do?” small talk will become even fluffier the moment you mention you’re a yoga teacher.  Get ready for quizzical looks, and comments like, “Oh, that’s nice.”  But rest assured, all that judgment is great preparation for your studio auditions!  It forces you to become very clear in your intentions as a teacher, and confident in your decisions.

5.     Practice what you preach, and practice while you teach.  Remember, you’re first a yogi and second a teacher, so stay flexible and present.  It’s easy to lose your awareness if you’re plotting your next move three steps ahead in a class.  I used to spend hours writing out sequences before going in to teach.  I learned quickly that not only is it a sure way to make your teaching feel rigid, unaware, and disconnected from your students, you also never have any idea what you’re walking into.  You might have planned an entire sequence geared towards back bending only to discover that half of your students are complaining of low back pain. 

6.     Teachers are human too.  One of the biggest surprises of the last year was the new expectation that because I teach yoga I am now a fully enlightened, perfectly calm, and all knowing being…oh, and I’m Vegan too.  I’m sorry to disappoint, but I am still very much human, full of attachment, ugly moments of stress, struggles, and I do enjoy the occasional grass-fed burger.  I’m riding the same imperfect path as everyone else, trying to do no harm and hopefully leave a happy mark on the earth.

7.     Being a yoga teacher is actually quite lonely.  You are your own boss, co-worker, and administrative assistant.  There is no team effort, no pat-on-the-back for a job well done, and no outlined schedule.  You’re on your own kid.

8.     I am not a teacher.  I use the word “teacher” only because it’s the most universal and understandable term to describe what I do.  To label myself as a “yoga teacher” feels heavy and too large, like a child playing dress-up in her mother’s beaded gown.  Teachers know much, much more than I do.  What I do is share: I share what I’ve learned and I guide fellow students.  But Yoga Sharer doesn’t have a very nice ring to it. 

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9.     Make sure you and your partner are on the same page.  Not only was this my first year of teaching, it was also the first year of my marriage. Why I decided to combine two massive life changes, I’m not quite sure…but I do know this past year would have been impossible without the full support of my handsome hubby, David.  Thanks, babaganoush, for always having my back.

10. Get ready to be constantly confronted with your “self”.  Yes, becoming a yoga teacher demands lots of technical knowledge in anatomy and alignment, philosophical study, and physical practice.  But the most exhausting, and even daunting, (but also amazing) part of becoming a yoga teacher is the requirement that you study and explore your self.  I can’t think of any other occupation that entails so much constant self-work and improvement.

So, there you have it, my top ten.  There were many more where these came from, like “Never demo forward bends in Lululemon pants”, but these are my most significant, and hopefully most relatable.  Taken out of the context of yoga, almost all of these lessons are also extremely applicable in life.  Taking leaps and risks is scary, especially when you have no idea where you’re landing, and you’ll always face judgment and insecurities, no matter what you’re doing.  I feel very lucky to be on this path, not only pursuing something that I love, but also pursuing something that has the potential to have such a positive impact in the lives of others.  It’s an honor and a privilege and I hope to be a good steward in the lineage of yoga as it continues to grow and evolve.  With the New Year comes a new set of challenges, but I’m entering 2014 with awareness and flexibility.  We’ll see what the next year brings…