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Recently on a colleague’s Facebook page I saw an interesting discussion about what, besides training, makes for great teaching. Presence, empathy, humility, motivation, finding one’s own voice—these were all great responses in the comments. But a major question also surfaced: How do you cultivate these qualities as a teacher?
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. As a yoga teacher who mentors a large online group of instructors, I regularly receive queries from new teachers with the same curious situation. They have hundreds (and hundreds!) of hours of training, yet little confidence in their abilities as a teacher. They’re bloated with information but cannot effectively share it, deliver their knowledge in a way that they feel good about, and truly serve their students.
It’s actually not very surprising. I know from being a former studio owner that trainings are one of the biggest income streams for yoga studios and experienced yoga teachers. Let’s face it: no one is making a living from $30 unlimited classes for a month. We’ve created a culture of training overload, where inspired students and new teachers feel they need to enter training after training because they are simply the only venues that provide the input and community we’re seeking.
But there comes a time when adding more hours and more certifications are not what’s needed. What’s needed is the unprofitable yet crucial and empowering work of developing one’s OWN relationship with yoga.
“We’ve created a culture of training overload, where inspired new teachers feel they need to enter training after training because they are simply the only venues that provide the input and community we’re seeking.”
Yes, of course, the skills and techniques you receive in training are the basis of effective teaching. We all know that. And, yet, for me, what makes the biggest difference in who you are as a teacher is who you are as a yoga practitioner.
I began teaching online in 2015 for the sole purpose of helping instructors integrate what they learn in trainings. I recognized that new teachers needed a framework and structure to assimilate their hundreds of hours of yoga education and put their skills into practice in ways that proved effective in real life and felt authentic for them.
This is how my program, The Skillful Yogi, started, and it’s evolved into so much more. We’ve become a global community of teachers committed to shifting the serial-training culture, and digging into practice and learning with the support of a seasoned community. I’m proud to say we’re shifting the culture of yoga consumerism and reclaiming the path of studentship and engaged learning.
I’ve realized it comes down to is this: PRACTICE and EXPERIENCE. To be clear, I don’t mean only practicing teaching, or getting experience teaching. I mean practicing yoga. I mean going deeper into one’s own experience.
Simply put, we can only teach from who we are. A body, a mind, a spirit that regularly (yes, every day) steeps itself in the teachings and practices of our tradition (if only for a few moments even) is, dare I say, the only way to find your voice as a teacher, to develop the presence and authenticity you crave, to inspire simply by being who you are, and to lead others on the path.
It’s the daily infusion of yoga into our lives that gives us confidence as a teacher, that gives us that thing that no training can provide, that makes teaching a natural extension of who we are.
It’s what you do on your mat when no one else is telling you what to do that you come into relationship with your body, your breath, your mind, that will be your greatest teacher.
It’s by being a student that we deepen our teaching. A student of our craft, of course, but perhaps more importantly, a student of ourselves.
Yoga is not simply a path of acquiring and consuming, though that is often the way it is presented in a mainstream yoga culture. It’s a path of becoming, imbibing, and ultimately, of being.