In a continuing discussion, I have a few more ideas to share about what I have learned after 20 years of teaching, and a decade of facilitating yoga teacher training programs. I hope you find this helpful!
A few things I have learned:
Know Your Core Values. In March I talked a bit about core values and how, to me, a big part of developing a healthy and successful teaching practice is getting to know yourself and your core values. Know what you are teaching and why. Spending time at the start of your teaching practice developing a core values statement or mission statement is a good way to keep your teaching authentic and help you in making decisions about the direction of your teaching and your business. Too often, when we don’t remind ourselves of our core values, we can make choices and decisions about how we teach, where we teach, and what we teach that are not aligned with our essence, our scope of practice, or our unique skills and talents.
Respect your scope of practice and know what kind of space you can hold at this stage of your teaching. In my early journey I had a tendency to say yes to everything. This has given me a lot of great experiences and a lot of spectacular failures. I ran retreats before I was ready to hold that space. I brought in elements to teacher training that, although I benefited from as a student, I did not have the skills to facilitate myself. And, in my efforts to be helpful, I stretched the boundaries of my scope of practice too many times to count. Would I know myself as well now if I hadn’t tried things out? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I can’t say. I have had the journey that I have had and I wouldn’t change it for anything. But, I know myself better now, and know what kind of environments I work best in and can comfortably say no when another teacher would better serve the students or the space.
Be authentic. There will always be a more popular teacher, a better attended class, a new and trendier yoga form, and a ‘better’ teacher who can do fancier poses than you and has the most amazing Instagram following. As inspiring and uplifting as these teachers might be (and you can learn so much from our more experienced, advanced, and marketing-savvy teachers), trying to do what others do in order to achieve (what looks like) success might work in the short term, but you might be sacrificing your own unique voice and the firm foundation of your truth in the process. As well, you might not be reaching those students who really want to hear your voice, your wisdom, and learn from your unique experience, studies, practice, and viewpoint. I fear that many students and potential students might not be served when the only classes in their area are focussed on one population, one popular style, or one particular goal.
You can’t be everything to everyone. And, the more you try to please everyone, the more you will end up pleasing no one. I hear this from graduates regularly, ‘this student wanted more of this, and that student wanted more of that, but that’s not really what I can/wish to teach, what do I do?’ You can become confused and exasperated trying to meet student or studio requests or meeting the latest trend in yoga, especially those that aren’t in keeping with your vision for your class. You can become disheartened after spending a week on planning, sequencing, theming and practicing, and the only feedback you get from your class is ‘I wasn’t crazy about that music’. And, unfortunately, you can actually alienate the students who really wish to share in what you have to offer by trying to meet the needs or wishes of those who might be better served elsewhere. When it comes to meeting student needs, perhaps tuning in to the quiet majority rather than the vocal minority is an approach to explore. Teaching is a journey and, like our own yoga practice, that journey is best travelled when you are seeking out the truth of who you are as a teacher, what spaces you can hold, and what your student body needs.
How do you know what is authentic for you? Experiment, but be patient. Regularly return to your Core Values, consider your scope of practice and what spaces you work best in, but also get ready to be flexible with these areas as you learn, grown, develop, and challenge your teaching.
What’s next? When you are ready to try something new and challenging in your teaching, consider how we take on the challenge of a new yoga pose – we study, get guidance and support, break a new pose down into manageable parts and take small progressive steps. The same progression can be applied to developing your teaching practice or growing your business; rather than flinging yourself into a new opportunity, take it step by step, breathe deeply, pay attention, and embrace the challenge.