When I lead teacher training programs in the past, or sit down for coffee with a new teacher who is struggling, or someone that has been teaching full time for a couple years and is hitting burnout, I see the same bright eyes I had after my first 200 hour, eager to share with the world what feels like a calling, and so excited about a practice that has changed their life, but discouraged by the real challenges of getting started as a teacher, or staying committed after being tired, under-paid, and over-worked.
I get it. The market is saturated, it can sometimes feel like teachers are pumped out like it's a fast food factory and the industry has changed dramatically in the last 5 years.
Noah Maze touched on this shift in the industry perfectly, without mentorship, the yoga industry can feel like the "wild west."
I couldn't agree more, and I see so many talented teachers struggling to get started, or to continue teaching. And to that I say: I've been there, and I still go there, and here are the ways I pull myself out:
1) The power of "I don't know": commit to studentship. For me, this is number one. One of the most eye opening coaching workshops I took drew a diagram of a circle on the wall that was "all the knowledge in the world." Then it asked you to draw a realistic sliver of your own knowledge. Lets just say you can barely see the small tiny dot inside the vast circle of everything there is to know in the world. When you do that, you realize how much you don't know. What you don't know is vastly bigger than knowledge you can obtain in a lifetime- remember that. Commit to lifelong learning, learn from everyone (everyone has knowledge you don't...everyone), always speak from your own experience, and within your scope of practice. Pretending to know everything is not only exhausting, it's just not possible.....ever.
2) Find a Teacher and find Mentor(s) you resonate with. On that note, learn from everyone, but don't choose everyone. I can't stress this enough. In a training I took with Jason Crandall, he spoke in depth of this idea that every teacher in the world teaches from a curriculum. If you don't know what you're teaching, its very hard to stay inspired. Similarly, if you don't know who inspires you it's hard to understand what lineage you are teaching. Pay attention to those that inspire you.
One of my mentors said, "anything you're attracted to or interested in: this is your soul lighting up, follow that." Find a Teacher, and then find many Mentors for many different things. Everyone can be impactful through sharing their personal experiences, but knowledge is like the building blocks that give the house structure, you can't skip the foundation. Every discipline and tradition in the world is passed on this way. Ask for help, don't try to do it all yourself.
3) Continuously evolve. You can always go back, but if you try something new, you move forward. Your teaching style evolves, and your interests evolve. Trust yourself. Don't be afraid to push out of your shell, and go towards what lights you up. For me, getting close to my own emotional landscape, and understanding the signals of my body and mind was huge. I can feel when it is time to move forward toward something else, or evolve out of one style and into another.
4) Ask for feedback, but don't take it all in. Beyond the science of yoga, lineage and anatomical safety, your own voice in yoga is subjective. You cannot control how someone will experience your class. One challenge as a yoga teacher that is often not talked about, is staying true to your voice, and while also navigating feedback, much of which can be helpful- we all need feedback. However, as you teach more, you develop a voice and intention.
Be discerning and take feedback from people that see you, usually a trusted mentor. Continue to ask for feedback, and develop a lens through which you can let stuff that doesn't fit go. Every successful person that stands for something has to deal with this. The more you teach, the more you will understand what your intention is, and what you stand for as a teacher.
5) Teach. Teach. Teach. I didn't start teaching until I forced myself to. I started teaching in a park for free and advertised it on Facebook (before Instagram was around). Truly, it was my dog, and my mom and slowly people starting coming, and eventually I got a job at a studio. The point is: there is a time and place for every stage of teaching and there is always someone that needs yoga in whatever stage you are in. When you are authentic with where you are, you give yourself permission to grow.
Give it away for for free, volunteer at a community center, find people that need your services that you can practice on. Send the signal out the universe, and embrace where you are.
6) Embrace your nerves. One of the top things people ask me is "when did you stop being nervous?". And although many of the nerves about technical skill and public speaking have faded, my answer is "never, it means you care." I always share that I nearly threw up at my first teach out, fought back tears, and took the guidelines to an extreme and taught a "yin" inspired sequence of about 4 poses in the span of 45 minutes and didn't leave the floor because I was afraid of teaching standing poses. I am a very different person now, but I didn't move forward from eliminating fear, I just acted despite fear and found reverence for my edges.
I still apply this notion to my teaching: Feel the fear, and do it anyway, use it as excitement and enthusiasm and you'll start to understand why it is there.
I've watched many students go through this same thing: you are not alone. Teaching a spiritually sound, anatomically correct, and clear class. is huge thing, never downplay that responsibility: own it.
If I become complacent as a teacher, or "comfortable" I know its time to dive in again, and I intentionally plan something outside of my comfort zone. The book Flow: The Optimal State of Learning by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines the state of optimal learning when your experience is just below your level of operation: being nervous is the key to growth. Whenever I feel fear, whether it's teaching or just in life, I channel this.
7) Make it about your students. Even on your worst day teaching, you will still make an impact on someone. Usually when we feel funny about how a class went, we are making it all about us. Stop that. Take the focus off of you, and figure out who can serve. Switch your perspective, and if you're stuck, figure out what is getting in your way, and give your gift away.
8) You are not enlightened: do not preach to your students. Mary Taylor says "If you have a teacher that says they are enlightened, Say "Thank you very much" as you back out of the room." This couldn't be more true. I am very open to all styles of teaching, but what scares me is someone that has claimed to have learned it all, or is not committed to learning more. See #1, and speak from your own experience, use the classic communication 101 tool "say I", avoid language the implies students should feel the way you feel. Hold space. Say less. Commit to really seeing your students.
9) Have reverence for the process. I can't tell you how many times I've doubted the process, and I still go through periods like this. It can feel challenging to be a yoga teacher. But if you lose the foundation, if you stop trusting, if you stop having faith and acting from love, you disconnect from yoga. Yoga does work. Period. Have reverence for the process that is unfolding.
As Carolyn Myss alludes to, you have to put in the effort, and you have to pay attention to the energy with which you do it: "faith in anything, be it positive or negative, produces results."
If I am going through a transition as a teacher, it is as simple as acknowledging who I may help that day, and allows any fear to subside. Do I think i'm going to be the next pioneer in yoga? Not counting on it. Do I think I can help people one day at a time? Absolutely.
10) Use tools that serve you. Theres a lot out there now about using social media to promote yourself. This doesn't mean you have it. Remember the yoga and the lineage: it works no matter what. Decide what tools you will use and how much is healthy for you. Figure out why you use it and stick within those bounds. Get intimate with your humanity, and be realistic about your limits are.
11) Find your sweet spot. Being successful as a teacher, does not have to mean teaching full time. In fact, i'm a firm believe that if you are teaching full time, (and only public classes), you are probably.....very tired. Be diligent with your sweet spot and the number of classes you'd like to teach a week. Ask for what you're worth, and be as committed to your own self care as you are to your students. More often than not, that's teaching less classes, filling your education cup and making sure you have time to teach from your own practice.
Embrace the process, be true to who you are, and be patient with the development of yourself. All is coming.