If you are a new yoga teacher, you may have asked yourself one of the following questions, either during class or after: Am I making any sense right now? Why did only three people turn out for class? Should I have put some Rihanna in my playlist?
And perhaps the golden question: How do I become a good teacher?
I recently asked several of New York’s most senior and well-respected yoga teachers for advice they would offer to those just embarking on their teaching journeys. While their insights will help guide those just starting out on this path, they will most likely be of interest to any teacher, regardless of discipline or experience level.
"When I was beginning to teach, one thing I was told—but didn't heed—was that for every hour one teaches, one ought to practice for two hours. Chuck Miller taught me that. I was so busy saying 'yes' to every opportunity that I found myself willing to put aside my own practice in service of everyone else’s.
"Make time for your personal practice and keep it sacred. Say 'no' to anything that can take you away from your own source of inspiration and your own yoga.
"I also think it's important to record a few of your own classes. Pick one recording to practice to so you can be a student in your own class. You'll hear your habits, feel your rhythm, and experience your teaching from a whole new perspective. This is challenging, but I find it to be very useful."
"My advice is to actively seek out places to teach, get on sub lists, and teach as often as you can. It's easier in the beginning to start at studios that are less high-profile in order to gain experience.
"Ask for feedback from teachers you respect, and try not to let how many people show up affect how you teach. Whoever shows up wants to practice, so teach them! You'll build a solid reputation by consistently teaching good classes and being a teacher who is present and positive.
"Always prepare your classes, and do this by studying, reading, and practicing. Take classes with various teachers from different studios. It's good to be reminded of what it feels like to be a student. Keep yourself interested in your own practice so you can inspire others.
"Lastly, be professional, be on time, and be kind."
"Meditation has been part of my daily preparation for teaching ever since taking the Jivamukti Yoga teacher training over ten years ago. I find that meditation clears out all my inner clutter, fears, and self-doubts, which helps me to be more responsive to the needs of students. In the words of my teacher, meditation is a powerful tool that helps us to 'get out of our own way.
Meditation helps us to restore and recharge ourselves at the beginning or the end of our day, to move out that which we may have unburdened our students of energetically, by means of touch or in conversation.
For teachers, meditation becomes a wellspring of energy, clarity, insight, inspiration, humility, and sensitivity. As my apprentices pursue their own journeys as yoga teachers, meditation is the one practice I can never recommend enough to them. It’s also one of the many things I am so grateful to my own teachers for instilling in both my life and my daily practice."
"The Bhagavad Gita (7.16) outlines various reasons why people become yogis and, by extension, yoga teachers. Some do so out of need—either emotional or financial. Others do so to seek knowledge and a following. A smaller number do so from an understanding that yoga’s ultimate purpose is to awaken love of God. 'My father never saw yoga simply as a physical practice,' wrote K.V. Desikachar, son of the late yoga master Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. 'Yoga was much more about reaching the highest which, for him, was God.'
"American and European yoga teachers and practitioners confront a challenge. God has been a problem ever since the Age of Enlightenment, tainted by institutional abuses and a polarization of the world into thinking rationalists and unthinking believers. Some greater mystery is out there, but we risk being marginalized if we dare to call it 'divinity.' We also risk losing students if we spend too much time with dharma talks and too little time helping them work up a sweat.
"What to do? My advice to new yoga teachers, based on a half-century of Bhakti Yoga practice, is this: You do yourself and your students a disservice by denying what yoga is all about. Something profound happens in a mature yoga practice, something magical. Consciousness is stimulated. The heart softens. Life begins to make sense.
"Take the plunge, chant God’s names, sanctify each meal with a mantra, pray for help to move past ego. Try it for a week and watch the magic begin."
During my own teacher training, one of the most important instructions I received was “show up.” While this is a very simple piece of advice, as I progress on my own path as a teacher, I’m finding it to be quite profound. As a teacher, showing up requires steadiness, dedication, and commitment. Showing up means honoring my teachers and faithfully transmitting thousands of years of teachings that have been passed down from generation to generation. Above all, showing up reminds me to be purposeful and loving as I try to facilitate a deep learning experience so others can glimpse—and eventually reach—their highest potential.