For Latham Thomas, being a yoga teacher all comes down to home practice: waking at 6 a.m., lighting a candle on her bedroom altar, meditating for 30 minutes, flowing through asanas for another 20 minutes, then doing affirmations silently or out loud.
"My home practice not only prepares me for my day but invigorates my teaching, too," says Thomas, a prenatal yoga instructor in New York City and the founder of Tender Shoots Wellness. "Here, I learn to release the same emotional and physical tensions that my students may be feeling. And here, I experiment with poses and practices that I'll use later in class."
Whether you practice for two hours or 20 minutes, at home or at your studio, the personal time you take for yoga is essential for cultivating tapas (discipline)—and crucial to your work as a yoga instructor. "Too often, yoga teachers fall into the bad habit of neglecting their personal practice," says Eric Small, an instructor at the Beverly Hills Iyengar Yoga Studio. "But if you don't have your own practice, you're reciting, not teaching. There won't be as much sincerity in your presentation, and your students may not be able to relate to it."
If you're juggling a hectic schedule, you may think you have no time for personal practice. Take a deep, three-part breath, and think again. "Maybe you're traveling and don't have a set yoga space, or you're busy and just have five minutes to spare," says Matthew Sanford, an Iyengar teacher in Minnetonka, Minnesota. "Even so, you can still roll out your mat on your hotel room floor and do one Sun Salutation and then four minutes of Pranayama. You can still make time for your practice, which should be as flexible and fluid as your poses are."
Finding time to practice is part of the practice, say teaching veterans. You'd say the same to your students. Where there's a will, there's a way. Thomas, who is a single mother, invites her six-year-old son to join her for asanas and meditation. Small, who has multiple sclerosis, practices for an hour before his workday begins. Sanford, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a traffic accident at age 13, makes time to stretch and breathe throughout his day.
Need more inspiration? Read on and learn why a regular home practice is good for you—and for your students, too.
When you do asanas, pranayama, and meditation daily, it shows in how you carry yourself, how you interact with other people, and how you teach. It helps you become centered and clear, which allows your experience and training to flow through you. And when you're calm and collected, you serve as a living example of santosha (contentment) for your students. "When you practice, you're taking in spiritual food," says Thomas. "And that food nourishes both you and the people you teach."
If you've just learned a new pose or sequence, home practice is where you can refine and perfect it before teaching it to your students. Your mat is also the best place to develop techniques that will establish your signature style. "In your personal practice, you can roll around, have fun, and get creative," says Rusty Wells, the co-owner of San Francisco's Urban Flow Yoga. "That's what I do for an hour before I teach my studio classes. And that free-form, flowing home practice is where I invent new techniques that I later introduce in class."
Teach from Experience
If your students have special concerns, you can learn to address their needs by experimenting on your own mat. "At home, I've developed adjustments that have helped my regular students address every problem from knee injuries to fused ankles," says Beth Wengler, a hatha instructor at Mill Stream Wellness Studio in St. Joseph, Minnesota. "I'll be in Bridge Pose and start thinking about a student with tight shoulders. I'll arch my back, discover that this releases the shoulders, and suggest it to my student during our next class."
Cultivate Beginner's Mind
As they explore yoga one challenging new step at a time, your students may be pushing themselves to their limits. "Unless you're pushing yourself in your personal practice, too, you'll forget how challenging yoga can be," says Jeff Martens, co-owner of Inner Vision Yoga in Phoenix. "Home practice will help you cultivate wonder and appreciation for this discipline—and compassion for your students that will make you a more effective teacher."
Boost Your Career
A strong home practice is reflected in your instruction and in your demeanor—and that "yoga confidence" makes for an attractive candidate for subbing or full-time positions. In other words, a home practice can be good for your career. "I have confidence in my regular instructors because they've all done home practice long-term," says Alison Rubin, the director of Harmony Yoga in Spokane, Washington. "Their dedication impresses me, and it shines through in their teaching."
Reflect Your Life
Regardless of whether you sub classes occasionally or support yourself by teaching full time, your mat is where true "union" (one translation of the word yoga) begins. Here, you fuse your breath and your body and unite your work as a practitioner with your work as a teacher. "When I open my eyes in the morning and my day starts, I know I'm going to practice yoga," says Sanford. "It's an unquestioning connection, and it's the foundation for all the work I do, both on and off my mat."