October 9, 2014 is the official two year mark of my yoga teaching career. Taking a break from my normal schedule of fitness training, reading books and articles, watching anime, teaching yoga, and any other pursuits my heart desires, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect upon the path I have chosen. When we seek to do something our heart wants us to accomplish, it will never ever be a clear cut path. A straight forward path is something the mind creates. The heart can be strong and its message vague if we are not in tune with its communicating style. Below are my personal lessons (in no particular order) I’ve learned from teaching yoga over the past two years.
Feel free to chime in with what you’ve learned as either a yoga teacher, student, or someone just interested in yoga!
1. I absolutely love working with children and teaching them yoga!
If you were to ask younger Jen if she would like to work with children in the future, she would had said “I don’t think I’d do well with children.” or “I don’t think that’s for me.” Maybe that was true for past Jen. However, now I look forward to working with kids and teens with not just their physical practice, but allowing them to have the creative space to create, share and be safe with their peers in yoga asanas and related yoga activities. It started back in late 2013, I was asked to sub a children’s yoga class at one of the gyms I taught. I watched the interactions between the students and the teacher and wrote down as many notes as I could. All those notes are still somewhere but the tools I needed were already inside of me. Since that time, I’ve taught different kids yoga programs at various locations (A Step Ahead Dance Center, Krav Maga Maryland) and even helped with my first kids yoga camp this past summer at Glenelg Country School! It was an amazing experience to be there during the summer camp because I spent 20-30 hours per week with the children from age 5-12 and learned from an experienced children’s yoga teacher, Soil Sound!
2. Don’t Burn Out From Your Passion.
I’ll never forget what I learned from shadowing another yoga teacher during my YTT-200 Hour course. She was a well known yoga teacher for the area and I observed her packed class at a tennis and swim club. “Don’t burn yourself out within the first year” she told me as I asked her questions about teaching yoga and advice on how to be successful. Many times throughout my first year, I felt this burn out. Whenever I begin to have the feeling of burning the candle at both ends, I go back to my roots. I meditate and prioritize what is important for me, which leads to #3.
3. My health comes first.
You would think this was a given lesson to follow, coming from a yoga teacher and someone that promotes health, self-awareness, internal space for meditation, and other things to promote wellness within the body and mind, and that I would be a hypocrite to not take care of my own health. But where do you think I learned these things? Mostly through my own experiences with being unhealthy prior to even practicing yoga as a student. I was over-weight, eating junk food and fast food all the time, and not sleeping enough. This coupled with my working long hours sitting at a desk and continuing to sit at a desk during the evening at university classes, made a bad recipe in my early 20’s. Over that time I realized this one important rule to always follow before undergoing any adventure or business avenue, my health, both physical, mental, and emotional will always come first to me. We cannot take care of others if we first do not take care of ourselves.
4. Always seek out knowledge and experience in your craft.
To think you know everything about something means you create your own limitations. Constantly, I am reminded of the powerful healing potential and reports on meditation and yoga. When you reach your 200 hr certification to teach yoga, this is just the beginning. There is so much more information out there. Over the years I learned about the many styles of yoga (some in more details than others), something I may not have searched out while I was a student. When I went through my teacher training we covered Ayurveda in small detail and it ignited a spark to learn about other systems in the world people were using (for example, thai yoga massage!) for healing arts.
5. Allow your personality to come through while teaching.
I struggled with this for the first year. This is coming from a somewhat shy person who did not really open up to others until we became better acquainted, I was placing myself up there as a teacher each day. At first, I thought I had to fit this “mold” of what a yoga teacher is suppose to be like. However, this goes against the “yoga is for everyone” ideal. Yes, I’ll admit, it was a bit scary at first. There were times I would chastise myself for messing up on a command and it would throw me off if I dwelled on it. Opening up my heart to strangers was such a relief. This is who I really was and my students and fellow teachers could see this change. Now, I laugh along with my goofy sense of humor and really lame jokes I tell in class (For example: “Pretend you are in DBZ and releasing your kamehameha” or “Rock the boat in your Navasana!”) but I found people relax when I let down the barrier and their personal practice soars! It’s amazing to see someone struggle throughout the whole class and then when they get that “A-HA!” moment in one of the poses (usually Savasana) which usually leads to conversation after class.
6. Feedback is great!
Being an art major during my undergrad time at the university, you get some pretty dicey dissections of your finished work on display during critique time. This has truly made accepting critique about my yoga classes much more pleasurable. Feedback is exactly what it is. Sometimes you look in the mirror and think you are seeing something different than you project. That can happen while teaching yoga. So yes, feedback, is great regardless of what is said. This also opens up the line of communication between the teacher and student. Maybe I was not clear on instruction for one of the asanas or my voice was hard to hear. Let me know! How else can I improve within the ideas of my head? This also leads to usually the student asking more questions about yoga and getting involved.
7. Practice! Practice! Practice!
As Pattahbi Jois (one of the founding fathers of Ashtanga Yoga) said , “Yoga is 95 percent practical. Only 5 percent is theory. Without practice, it doesn’t work; there is no benefit. So you have to practice, following the right method, following the steps one by one. Then it’s possible.*” I’ve seen those numbers changed to 99% practice, 1% theory but the message is still loud and clear. Nothing can replace experience. Experience with a peaceful session. Experience with a clouded mind. Experience with failure. Experience with success. These an many more experiences found in yoga, not just the physical practice (asanas) but also in the mindfulness meditation and daily interactions with others is indeed a theory. How can I tell you to get into a posture without first doing it myself? Yes, of course on paper I can read (or video I can watch) about the asana. But what about the emotional and mental trail that comes along with getting into that posture? Going through the stages of your practice are unique to you, but as we share our experiences, we can learn from one another. That also leads me to my second part of this lesson. As my student, I will always encourage you to have a home practice as well. This will give you a different and more intimate space to practice your yoga and then hopefully bring questions, reactions, thoughts to me about your practice. I’m here to help you because yes, I too, love yoga! That is why I teach it and will continue to learn, live and enjoy life with yoga now a part of me.
Okay, so there are 7 things I learned over the past two years of teaching yoga. I’m sure as time progresses, I’ll revisit these lessons and expand/change/rewrite them as I continue to learn as well. Oh, and just a little progression pic. Here are two pics below. The one of me in blonde hair is when I first started teaching and the second one in brown hair is more recent.
*Quoted from an interview reprinted by http://www.ashtanga-yoga-victoria.com/k-pattabhi-jois.html