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Left to right: Giselle Mari, Alexandria Crow, and Coral Brown.
Don’t miss The Art of Teaching Yoga, a mentoring program for registered yoga teachers at Yoga Journal LIVE New York, April 21-24. Register now!
At The Art of Teaching Yoga, some of our favorite master yogis will guide an intimate group of students through Yoga Journal LIVE events (the program counts toward 22 Yoga Alliance continuing education contact hours). We asked three of these seasoned yogis—Alexandria Crow, a YogaWorks national teacher trainer; Coral Brown, a teacher trainer, holistic psychotherapist, and longtime student of Shiva Rea; and Giselle Mari, a worldwide master Jivamukti teacher and teacher-trainer—to share with us the biggest mistakes they made when they started out as yoga teachers, and what they learned from these “oops” moments.
Alexandria Crow: “I wanted to be popular.”
My biggest mistake was making a choice out of the desire to be popular rather than out of my desire to be a good yoga teacher acting with authenticity. I was given the opportunity to sub for the most popular teacher in Los Angeles for an extended period of time. At that point in my career I didn’t play music, because it didn’t fit with my style of teaching nor did I personally practice with music on. This teacher is known for great classes and great music, and although the turnout I was getting was really good, it wasn’t near his sold-out numbers. Some of his students said they would come and that they’d heard great things, except I didn’t play any music and they really loved that part of class. They told me if I played music, they’d be there for sure. So, out of a desire to be more popular, I started playing music. It was fun and it added a playful element to my demanding classes, but what I began to notice was that they listened less, they were less focused, and they didn’t make as many wise personal choices in class. Also, those students who said they’d come if I made the choice to play music, didn’t. I kept the music for a couple of years and got to a place where it was just ambient noise in the background, but it always felt forced. Eventually, I got rid of the music again and went back to my authentic style of teaching, which has drawn my own base of students who [appreciate] my teaching exactly as it is. Be unapologetic about being you, is what I have learned.
Coral Brown: “I led a retreat too soon.”
The biggest mistake I made as a new yoga teacher was skipping some key stages of development as a teacher. About 2 months after I graduated from my 200-hour training, my teacher at the time invited me to assist her on a retreat she was leading. All I had to do was pay half the price and help her tend to the background details. I jumped at the chance and happily flew off to Mexico. When it was announced to the group of my peers that I would lead half the classes on the retreat, I realized my first mistake — lack of communication. I expressed my discomfort and explained that the people signed up for the retreat for my teacher and not for me, a brand-new and barely experienced teacher. But I was persuaded to do it. So I did. I taught well and learned as I went along, but I certainly wasn’t ready to hold this kind of space for students. I knew that this wasn’t the kind of teacher that I wanted to be. I knew that I had a deep respect for yoga and the process of learning and wanted to do more than just adequately facilitate this meaningful work. I took a step back and checked myself; I slowed down and went back to the basics. I am frequently asked by teacher trainers, “How can I be a traveling yoga teacher?” My answer is always the same: “Out of respect for the value of the practice, you have to learn, teach, and learn some more. It takes time. If you want to travel and teach sooner than later, then get a teaching job at a destination spa, a cruise line, or something of the sort. This process is too important to rush. Take your time, it’s worth it.”
Giselle Mari: “I thought I didn’t look the part.”
The day I returned home from my first yoga teacher training I had a job offer on my, wait for it, answering machine. Both my elation and nerves put me into a frenetic dialogue with myself: “Oh s–t, am I ready for this?” “Do I know enough about sequencing, Sanskrit, good jokes, etc.?” “Would I confuse my Downward-Facing Dog and my Cat Pose?” Moreover, “Was I yogic enough and did I look the part?” I wasn’t like the teachers I admired, who were fairy-like with flowing hair and limbs and voices like butter, who could rattle off philosophy and Sanskrit chants while teaching with one arm tied behind their back. I was fresh off the yoga truck and convinced I’d be found out — a yoga fraud. And there it was, my biggest mistake. I believed and thought I needed to be someone other than who I was to be a really great teacher. After much fumbling and feedback from family and friends, my rebellious spirit busted out and said, “Do YOU! Put your concert T-shirts back on and your tights from Target, bring your boom box that still plays cassette tapes, and teach what you know and who you are in this moment!” Really great teachers are the ones who are authentic to their process and where they are on their path — in the moment. When we are in our authenticity, we are in our power, and in our power we are whole and complete — yogic. After many years of practice, hard work, and acceptance, I know a bit more about sequencing and Sanskrit, and I tell terrible jokes. I make mistakes and I’m still learning. But what I know for sure is when I stand truthfully in my humanity—warts and all—I am teaching the best and highest form of yoga there is: acceptance of who and what we are in the now.