Before I dive in, I do want to to pause and acknowledge the word mistake that I've used in the title of this blog. I feel like we hear this word sometimes and it doesn't leave room for the learning component that is available to us when we have those situations or experiences where we make decisions that end up feeling misguided or misunderstood, and so we deem them as mistakes.
"I also want to highlight that I truly believe mistakes are opportunities to learn, refine and grow." - Sandy Raper
The mistakes I am going to share in this post are to serve as observation points for you to explore and notice where you may be inadvertently missing key opportunities to expand and grow in your effectiveness as a yoga teacher. It is my hope that you will spend time in reflection on how these potential mistakes might be showing up for you and then cultivate a willingness to refine where is needed in order to be as effective as you can be as a yoga teacher.
Mistake #1: Lack of purposeful preparation.
I'm not sure that purposeful preparation is really being discussed or focused upon much in yoga teacher training (YTT). There is a lot of focus on preparing to share the techniques, however, preparing with purpose in the way that I am going share with you most likely did not show up in your foundational training experience. I can make this statement because I continually have conversations with yoga teachers, new and seasoned, who share their struggles and obstacles with me. For many, it becomes evident that the lack of purposeful preparation is at the core of their obstacles and struggle.
Purposeful preparation is a requirement which focuses more on the aspect of how you are being as a teacher, instead of solely focusing on being prepared with your class sequence, your playlist and all of the other exterior components of the class experience that we most often spend significant amounts of time on as teachers.
All of those class preparation items that I just listed is the fun stuff, right? That's the stuff that our brains like to use to keep us occupied with thinking we're developing and growing as teachers because it feels fun, comfortable and non-threatening unlike the uncomfortable and unknown space such as readying ourselves to step into a classroom and hold space for all students to explore their own unique experience of the practice of yoga. The unknown space of not knowing who will show up for class and the needs that they will they bring with them is scary. It's possibly even terrifying for a new teacher.
Teaching yoga is very much about an energy exchange. It's amazing the varying experiences we, as teachers, and students can encounter from class to class. I believe the greatest skillset for a yoga teacher to develop is effective communication and reading the energy of the room, in real time, each and every class you step into. Energetic preparedness requires a spontaneous readiness to meet students where they are, in that moment, and however they show up. It becomes challenging, and even unrealistic, for a teacher because the planning and preparation is usually done with a particular student in mind, or the ideal student we envision that will come to class. What happens most often, though, is that this ideal student you envisioned is not the one who actually shows up to your class that day. What then? Well, this is where the mistake, or missed opportunity shows up because of your lack of purposeful preparation.
How can you purposefully prepare to lead a yoga class experience? It begins with you becoming more effective in your communication and presence as a teacher. You begin by establishing a meeting time with yourself and inquire into how you are showing up and what kind of energy you are bringing into your own personal practice space. Start there and then carry this with you into the spaces where you teach.
Purposeful preparation requires a level of commitment and endurance. Teaching yoga is not a "cookie cutter" experience. It isn't a rote experience with a set of memorized cues, or postures repeated over and over. It just doesn't work that way because of how dynamic humans are and the intricacy of the abilities we all uniquely possess. Because of this, no YTT could ever fully prepare you for this encounter. There is an element of faith and trust. In your preparation as a teacher, you must ask yourself if you fully believe in the practice of yoga. Do you believe in the catalyst that the teachings of yoga can offer in making the necessary changes in your life? Do you believe in the student's capacity for yoga to provide the same for them? If you believe, then the students you lead will believe. It begins with purposeful preparation.
Mistake #2: Focusing more on what you have to say as a teacher rather than focusing on what the students are actually hearing.
How easy it is for us, as yoga teachers, to get caught up with wanting to share that we potentially miss a key element of connection with the students we lead by allowing our focus to be more about what we are saying rather than what the student may actually be hearing. This includes your non-verbal communication, as well. Are you more focused on what you are doing, the act of teaching, rather than being energetically present to meet the students where they are on that given day, and in that class experience. As teachers, we can quickly get caught up, even consumed, with what we want and have to say in a class. What would happen if we flipped that perspective and instead spoke from the place, or the attitude and character, of a teacher that is more concerned with what the student might actually be hearing?
This sounds like an unattainable skillset to develop but I believe that this perspective shift is a game changer. This could be a missing piece within the student-teacher relationship. It all begins with thinking about communication differently. Think of it as a way of communicating that isn't one-sided. The sense of mutuality is present when the teacher truly serves the students with what they need, not solely what the teacher wants or thinks the student needs during the practice time. It's a student-focused approach and methodology where the students needs are accessed by the teacher, in real-time, rather than the focus being placed heavily on the teacher's need to be heard.
Have you ever taken a class where the teacher filled every moment with words? And filled the space with words that didn't even feel connected to the experience and the words even felt scripted? I have. There is a time and place within the space of learning how to facilitate a yoga class where you develop the language and vocabulary you will use that supports students within their learning process. How often do teachers stop there? Teachers memorize their class script without spending time digging into why they are even saying what they are saying and what experience they are inviting students into. The class then becomes more of a dictation of an experience rather than a directive that guides students into the development of an autonomous experience with the practice of yoga.
Here's where the mistake comes in. If our focus remains on choosing the right words we think the students want or need to hear without ever evaluating what they may actually be hearing then we could become a barrier to the cultivation of autonomy that I just mentioned. Think about it. What draws you back to the mat to practice? What keeps you consistent in your practice? Well, the yoga teacher is of importance in your development but it really has less to do with a particular teacher. It has more to do with where the teacher is directing your focus during the practice. And if the teacher is directing your focus towards themselves, then they have become a distraction and a diversion from the teachings of yoga.
“As a teacher, your focus may be skewed from the beginning because part of your yoga teacher training experience includes the memorization of what your lead teacher thinks is the best collection of cues and methods of sequencing to teach a class. Ultimately, this perspective could be seen as the only way to direct and lead a class." - Sandy Raper
Mistake #3: Misunderstanding how stewardship impacts your service as a yoga teacher.
There are two driving forces behind why I teach, service and connection. After two decades teaching, I continue to use these two points of evaluation as markers for alignment and understanding for the teaching opportunities that I explore and pursue.
Do you view or have you considered your role as a yoga teacher being an act of service? Not that you are just offering a service or product. Certainly you are offering a service to the students you teach but are you taking action from a heart of service? Are you serving the students you are teaching, the ownership of the space where you teach, and fellow teachers from a heart and attitude that adds value to the relationship and interaction within the act of serving?
Someone who serves from a heart of service is someone who looks outside of themselves and chooses to take action with the intent of adding value to the experience for others. The key emphasis here is that within the context of service there is an outward value-driven action taken towards others. Interestingly, not only do individuals on the receiving end of this act of service benefit, but the individual who engages and initiates the act of service finds great value and efficiency of being, as well.
Stewardship is an acknowledgement of gratitude for all that you have and the responsibility to safeguard and manage (well, I might add) all that has been bestowed upon you. Stewardship has just as much importance and relevance to the act of service and connection found in being a yoga teacher. How does stewardship factor into and impact our service as yoga teachers?
Stewardship applies in your approach to the role and relationship you step into when you accept a position to teach. The ultimate support that you can offer to the ownership and management of the spaces where you teach is to approach the position, and the actual teaching space as a gift.
In receiving this gift, we as teachers, seek to serve from the attitude and heart of service that isn't selfish or self-seeking. We serve with the outward focus that offers value to all who step into the space in which we teach honoring the gift that someone else has given in sacrifice of their time, resources, and financial security to provide so that it might be a space of service in the community. As yoga teachers, independent contractors in most cases, we approach this relationship with the same acknowledgment and responsibility by being good stewards of the opportunity that has been entrusted, or really gifted, to us.
Lastly, serving from an attitude and heart of service and stewardship will support connection more fully for you as a teacher and within all of the various relationships you will encounter in this role. A heart of service builds trust and adds significant value to the created action and experience that you facilitate as a yoga teacher.
Yoga teacher, I'll leave you with this. I challenge you to get clear on your role as a teacher. Get clear on why you even desire to be a yoga teacher. Do you focus more on the action of teaching rather than spending time evaluating how you are being as a teacher? Consider your understanding of what service as a yoga teacher means to you. Are you being a good steward of the gifts you've been given as an individual, and as a yoga teacher? The gift of the teachings of yoga have been given and poured into you. You have the opportunity to share and pass along this gift to the students you lead.
As yoga teachers we have the wonderful opportunity of learning and growing in our effectiveness as we share the practice of yoga with others. Perhaps these mistakes, or revelations, just might be a doorway to an expanded version of yourself as a teacher and an opportunity to make a bigger impact in the lives of those you are teaching.