Teaching yoga can be a complex and sometimes lonely job. It is also incredibly rewarding and many teachers will agree that they get back as much as they give. We believe that community and peer-to-peer conversation is vital to our continued growth as students and teachers. If we’re in this for the long haul, how do we continue to evolve, keep our own practice going and stay inspired? We’ve asked some of the UK’s most experienced yoga teachers what their go-to tips are from their own self-care practices to the very practicalities of running a business.
I like to think of the yoga practice that I offer as facilitated self-discovery. I believe that everyone, no matter their physical capabilities, has uncharted terrain within their body and their experience of self to discover. As the “teacher”, all I’m doing is making suggestions for enquiry and perhaps referring to my own self-discoveries. The key to this for me is in using language that invites reflection, sensitivity and exploration. A suggestion to try this action or this movement, to inhale here or exhale there, and then to notice what happens – what are the bodily sensations, are you comforted or challenged, what words do you hear in your mind? To create a feeling in the class that is safe and inclusive.
The breath. Return to your breath. It is the doorway into stilling the mind. So simple yet so profound. And embrace Pranayama with your students as early as you can. I always felt Pranayama was ‘Advanced Yoga’ so didn’t introduce it until way into our time together. But the transformative powers these simple practices hold is a gift we can offer our students from day one.
If you are feeling depleted after class or you are highly empathic and get affected by your clients´ emotions, I would recommend to practise loving kindness on a regular basis. This strengthens your compassion muscle, so that you can feel for someone else and will be able to give from an empowered place of love rather than get dragged down.
When people start teaching, they are often insecure about “not being perfect yet” – just relax and do your best: like teachers, also students come with different experience levels and you can grow together.
Setting up a business can be quite hard in the sense that there can be enormous volatility in terms of cash flow. It is completely normal to worry about where the income is coming from. The moment you notice yourself worrying, try to practise a breathing meditation to calm down your nervous system (inhaling as deeply as you can and exhaling as slowly as you can) and get back into a space of clarity. Try to focus on going the extra mile for your clients and then the business will come.
The more I teach, the more I discover how important my own support system is. I see many teachers who are burnt out or running on empty – I have been here too and it is a common symptom for those in care-giving roles. I made a commitment this year to ‘receive’ more. This may be in the form of a massage, reiki treatment, or taking time out. I also make sure that others hold space for me through therapy and supervision. These have become vital practices to support me in doing therapeutic work and being available for my clients. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having a wider support network if we want to do this long term.
When I teach, it is my intention to hold and facilitate a space for people to connect with themselves and others around them. As there can be a lot happening within this space, in order for me to be as present as possible and not feel overwhelmed, I take time to ground in myself before, during, and after I teach, or work one to one with anybody. Through practice of grounding, it feels to me like connecting with “inner space” and this is the space out of which creativity flows. By connecting with this space, it also feels like I protect myself (making it less likely to feel flustered or overly distracted!), and it makes for a better experience for the group / individual. The grounding process I use is available to listen to on the media section of my website and it can be used by anyone throughout the day, whatever it is they are doing, to come back to themselves.
I urge new teachers to take time to record their own practice in a yoga diary. I’ve been doing this for years, and it really helps to focus on what you’re doing, and to find the most effective way of conveying that to your students. Sometimes when I’m on the mat, magic happens, and I want to be in the moment, experiencing it completely. Writing it up afterwards gives me space to reflect, and then I can use the notes to create a class plan. Of course, no class is ever the same and our experience differs depending on the day, but this approach helps me share my process with my students. The act of writing it down helps me find the right words and order the poses sensitively, starting with the simple ones, which may make the focus most evident, and gradually working towards the more subtle (or more challenging) and the depths of breath or meditation.”
I believe that many yoga teachers, while having the best intention, can unnecessarily and harmfully vilify certain movements, such as knee hyperextension, by using fear-based language. No movement that we can naturally make is inherently bad for us as long as we follow a few simple rules: there is a clear intention behind the movement, we move with control and stay within a pain-free range of movement. Using language such as “micro-bend the knee to protect it” can have a nocebo effect (the opposite of a placebo effect), which is essentially creating a negative expectation of an otherwise harmless event. There is now evidence to suggest that performing a movement with a negative expectation can actually elicit pain even though there is no physical injury. Replacing the word protect with support can be an empowering alternative or better yet use a cue such as “micro-bend the knee to strengthen the leg muscles.”