It’s been almost one year since I completed my 200 hr. I feel like I’m talking a lot about things I don’t really know about here. (Imposter syndrome, yike.) As the title states, I’ve only been certified for a year, which is hardly anything, but I do want to share these things with you if becoming a yoga teacher is something you’re thinking about, or just accomplished. I do think teaching has brought a lot of opportunity for growth and learning into my life, so I’m going to share that with you. And if your lived experience differs in any way, I certainly don’t mean to shame anyone with my own. As usual, take the best and leave the rest. Who knows, things that I write today will maybe contradict future Allison entirely. In a way, we should kind of hope for that, right? We don’t want to be the same in 5 years.
ANYWAY, sorry to ramble. The things I’ve learned teaching yoga:
You don’t have to teach the hardest classes.
There can be a lot of pressure, especially if you’re on Instagram and you see all the influencers of the yoga world doing advanced yoga postures on their feed, to feel like you need to offer advanced classes for people to be interested in you.
Finding your style, in anything, takes time and exploration. I teach what I feel comfortable teaching. I teach in a way that speaks to me. I notice what the practitioners seem to need and try and find that overlap with what I bring to the table. That’s what people want, even if they don’t realize it. You can get really creative with the fundamentals. The honest truth is not everyone is going to pick up what you’re putting down, especially if you’re dealing with the uncertainty of being new, but that doesn’t mean you don’t belong. There is a place for you and you will find it. To be honest some more, some people may come to your class/yoga to get into some crazy stuff, usually before they’re ready, but again, it’s important to teach where you feel you can keep everyone, including yourself, safe. I’ve been practicing crow pretty much the whole 5 years I’ve been practicing yoga and I’ve only just started trusting myself and my regular practitioners enough to start introducing it in class. I’ve had my own classes since January and people tend to enjoy them even though I don’t have them standing on their heads. Influencers are living their best life, and you should live yours.
Don’t neglect your own practice.
When I was training, they warned us about the danger of, when you start teaching, you might start to count that as your practice for the week. I noticed myself start to do that once I started teaching, and I wasn’t even teaching every week at that point because I was a sub. Making conscious habits and rituals has always been something I’m not the best at. I knew that, in order to best serve the people that come to my classes, I had to find a way to prioritize my practice that made it non-negotiable. I was, and still am not in a place, where I can afford the reoccurring bill I would have to pay to practice at my favorite studios, so early this year I started inquiring about work-study programs at the places my teacher taught. That way, I would be working for my chance to practice and I would feel the obligation to make myself go to class. Not everyone is willing to work basically for free, even though you’re getting the yoga in return, but it’s a great option that many studios offer to help people who can’t otherwise afford to practice.
Use. Your. Props.
I find that when I cue prop usage, but don’t show myself using them, people won’t even look at their props. I get it. I was once that person who felt that props meant I was weak and not good at yoga. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our bodies are all so unique and have different needs based on our proportions alone, and that’s something we can’t control outside of ability level. I stress in my classes all the time that yoga is about making the practice work for you and meeting the body where it’s at. We are not doing ourselves any favors by pushing ourselves too far and sacrificing our form for depth. I notice that when I use the props, it makes others feel they have permission to use them. I also get honest about what poses are harder for me and how yoga is no small feat in the hopes others’ shame starts to dissolve around truly honoring their bodies. And there maybe some who genuinely don’t know how to use their props and saying “use your blocks here,” isn’t enough to help them get where they need to be. As a teacher, I do my best to check my ego at the door and normalize props as much as I can. Like I previously talked about, your class is not your time to get your practice in. It’s not show-off time, it’s about the practice for everyone else in the room.
This is a big responsibility.
My training did a pretty thorough job nailing this into my head. There’s a reason people are coming to yoga class. If they just wanted a “good workout,” they would be going to pilates. People can become very vulnerable under your watch because yoga often opens up more than the body, and often makes us face things we weren’t prepared for. This job is not to be taken lightly. You have the power to changes lives like my teacher changed mine. We are not just guiding a physical practice. It’s important to me to be careful with my language, that I make sure all adjustments are consensual, and that I am overall doing everything in my power to create a safe, inclusive space (I highly recommend Diane Bondy, Amber Karnes and their work together for great info on how to apply this in your teaching). It’s important as we guide people through their practice, we are staying as aware and attentive as we can to everyone in the room and serving them as best we can, keeping in mind that you never know what someone is going through.
Honor the practice.
Your work isn’t over after your 200hr. Or your follow up 300hr. Or when you’ve reached your 1000th hour. Or whatever your path looks like. Just like every other practitioner, yours is an endless journey. There is no shortage of information left to learn at the very least about the human body, but especially the other 7 limbs of yoga beyond asana (posture). Part of choosing to be a teacher in anything is choosing to be a constant student. In choosing this path, we should be committing ourselves to the entirety of it, not just the part that gets us sweaty. It’s our obligation to honor this practice, as well the culture it comes from. This practice has been warped in the west in the last hundred years. The wellness industry has taken yoga, watered it down, and sold it in a more digestible package all about helping you achieve your fitness goals (which, side note, are totally ok to have) and ease your stress levels, which just so happens to help you be a better producer- Ok, you’ve cleared your head, now get back to the hustle. It is crucial to keep the core essence of yoga alive and to listen to people from that culture and elevate those voices so we don’t lose sight of the essence of the yogic path (I highly recommend checking out Susanna Barkataki- one of her articles is linked in my “Roots” tab- and the Yoga is Dead podcast). If spirituality and “woo-woo” stuff isn’t your jam, that’s fine. Yoga is still for and can benefit everyone, but that doesn’t give anyone a pass to appropriate or perpetuate the cycle of digestible, white-washed yoga. There are plenty ways to move your body that can help you reach your fitness goals and ease your stress levels if that is solely what you want to focus on and you don’t care about this history, culture stuff. You do you, but by erasing authentic yoga culture you are participating in the attempt to erase a people that gave you this practice. Keep studying. (Full disclosure, I’m in early stages of learning about thing like cultural appropriation, how to incorporate these things into my classes and how yoga in the west can be harmful, but it’s still an important point to bring up and discuss.)
Your playlist doesn’t matter, but it also really does.
This is something I learned throughout my years live accompanying my teacher, Eleonora Zampatti, for our Ode to the Moon (yoga against domestic violence) events. The right song at the right time is everything. It can enable you to really lean in to the power of asana. I’ve read articles and heard arguments that teachers tend to get more involved and attentive with their playlist than they do with the actual people in the room, which is of course is to be avoided. My primary focus should be the guiding of the practice, and at the end of the day, the music doesn’t really matter at all. Yoga is traditionally practiced in silence. It is very much an accurate statement to say your playlist isn’t the forefront of your class, but playing a playlist that really enhances your personal style and how you teach creates a truly present, magical experience for people. I know people that come to my class, at least in part, because my deliberate music choices add so much more to their experience. The flip side of this coin is, if you pick songs with a dark message or a lot of cursing, think about how that might affect the practitioner’s psyche as you attempt to lead them to a vulnerable place. Again, it’s all about your intention and what you’re going for. There is heavy metal yoga out there and that really works for some people. My teacher trainers played rap and hip hop everyday, which doesn’t really work for me personally, but that’s what helps bring them into the practice, so that’s how they taught.
Not every class is going to be your best class.
I’m a recovering perfectionist. Being a yoga teacher has really helped me in this aspect. I’m human. Sometimes I am completely uninspired for my classes. Some days I’m tired for no reason and 10.30am sounds too early. Occasionally I get one or two people in the room, and it can be hard to psyche myself up for a low attended class. It all happens. For whatever the reason, sometimes I’m not at the optimal energy level, and that’s ok. You can only do your best with what you have that day. I think my dad used to say that to me. I’ve been saying that most of my life as a performer, and I’m finally starting to believe it and beat myself up less, thanks to being a yoga teacher. I’m not saying that if you’re feeling burnt out the right thing is to keep going. Your limits are up to you and I am super pro-vacation, but what I’m talking about here is more a case of I-don’t-feel-like-it syndrome or I’m-afraid-to-show-up-today-itis. I got in the habit, probably in college, of when I didn’t feel like doing something, I wouldn’t. If it was something that had to be done eventually, I would push it back. I’m the queen of pushing things back, but I can’t do that with my classes. Every week I have to show up. I have to be of service to the people that showed up for me and themselves. So, I do the best I can with what I have that day. And you know what? Never once have I thought to myself that I wasn’t good enough, for the first time in my life. When I make mistakes, I say “Ok, I learned from that,” or “I know what I’m talking about there, I’m just having an off day.” Teaching has empowered me to be so much more forgiving in my shortcomings. In this case, teaching when I know it might not be my best work is really healthy for me because it’s better than feeding the story I’ve been telling myself of “If it’s not your absolute best, don’t share it.” Eff that. Sharing what you have to offer is better than waiting for perfect, because she’s not coming to the party and I’m tired of watching other people dance.
I found my my voice again.
This has been the most profound transformation and I can pinpoint the moment this healing started for me. In one of my earlier blogs I talk about my Berklee experience, how I silenced myself while I was there, and how much I struggled with performance. Between college and losing my dad halfway through my last semester, I didn’t really start processing any of it until I got home and I had nothing to distract me from what was going on in my mind (which is partially what this blog was born of- a need for processing). All the sudden I was in so much pain and so much more lost than I realized. I didn’t have a steady leg to stand on. 2018 was just a series of endings- my dad, college, living in Boston, my sister finished with middle school, my other sister with high school, my YTT that ended as quickly as it came. Coming back to my voice was hard. I thought it would be free after leaving the environment where it hid itself away, but that wasn’t the case. Almost every time I tried to sing after coming home, it was a dagger in my heart. I would get overwhelmed with grief and regret of what I didn’t get done while my father was alive and the thoughts of not-enoughness because “I should be doing more to make my dad proud.” I was getting scared that I would never perform again with the grief piled on top of the Berklee bs I had to work through. I had an epiphany during one of my first practice teachings in YTT. That same fear I would get in relation to performing while at school came rolling all up through my spine. Completely paralyzing. But, in teacher training, there was a different outcome. I didn’t literally freeze, my body unable to respond to any command. I looked at the handful of the people I was teaching and I realized- they aren’t looking at me. This isn’t about me at all. This is about them and their experience. They are too busy focusing on their bodies and (hopefully) their breath. I am here to serve them. I was still terrified, but for the first time in a long time, I was terrified AND I could still have a hand on the wheel. I was co-existing with fear. I could breath through it. I learned something of crucial importance that day. When I was away at college, it felt like all eyes were on me all the time. I was being judged all the time, whether it was professors or peers, and it turned me into quite the comparer/judger myself. When I convinced myself the focus was all on me, my focus was all wrong. I was the worst singer I had ever been because I was letting fear win all the time. I was focused so much on pitch and I was rarely doing my job- which was storytelling. Storytelling isn’t about the storyteller at all. It’s about giving others permission to share their story. The short version: It’s. About. Others. It’s about connection. In that moment of practice teaching, I realized what I needed to get my voice back on track. First of all, I needed to teach yoga more, because it was my first taste of confidence in I didn’t even know how long. Confidence was like a vitamin I was extremely deficient in. I even still felt confident after I made *GASP* mistakes! Secondly, I needed the reminder that I stuck with this whole music thing in the first place because I felt like I could see and be seen by other people. It was not about me, it was about the collective experience, and if you’re really in that pocket, no one gives a flying fork about how flawless your technique is (although, bonus, technique is way easier when you’re not thinking about it so much). Lastly, I needed to start doing more things that scared me because I proved that I was capable of being afraid and succeeding at the same time. The only way to lessen fear of something is to keep inviting it to tea. In the words of Brené Brown, I wanted to get back in the arena. I want to share with others and fail and keep trying anyway. I don’t want to hide anymore. This has been a long journey, but today, I am finally starting to feel like I can take up space, and I have teaching to thank for that because it’s given me the tools to believe I am a brave person with a voice that was meant to be heard.
I am so grateful for this sacred practice. I am so grateful to have been offered a job so soon after my YTT graduation. I am grateful for Eleonora, who is the reason I became a teacher and helps me whenever I feel like i have no idea what I’m doing. I am so grateful for the people that choose my class, some every week. I am grateful for the people my training brought into my life. I am grateful to be singing with my heart again. I am just so, so grateful. If you are called to this, do it with everything you have.