During my first teacher training graduation ceremony, I asked my teacher, “You mean you want me to teach other people? Like, real humans?”
Diving into teaching as a new yoga teacher can bring up serious feelings of imposter syndrome and self-doubt. And while uncomfortable, these feelings are not at all uncommon. While many recent yoga teacher training graduates are excited to share their newly-acquired knowledge (philosophy! anatomy!) right away, others are uncertain and intimidated, not sure how to begin this next chapter of their lives.
To help you get you started, I gathered advice from some of the greatest teachers of all time (yoga and otherwise) to help build your teaching confidence.
1. Be prepared
“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” —Abraham Lincoln
When I first began teaching at a gym in 1999, I had a 5×8 spiral notebook with every single cue written down, including the inhalations and exhalations, with accompanying stick figures for each posture. For each sequence I designed, I would reference a few foundational yoga books and a 908-pose Dharma Mittra poster that I had on my wall.
It would take me hours to prepare for each class as I wrote down the poses, planned out the transitions, and practiced the class in its entirety. Then I would tear out the drafted pages and rewrite it again so that by the time I went to teach, I had memorized my class plan.
This system worked for me, but it certainly does not have to be your process. The point is that it helps immensely to have a process, whatever that may be for you. Achieving any goal requires preparation, and teaching yoga is no exception. Additionally, being prepared will allow you to feel comfortable and confident in front of the class.
2. Stay close with your teachers and mentors
“No matter how well trained people are, few can sustain their best performance on their own.” —Atul Gawande
To this day, more than 20 years out from my first teacher training, I still check in with my teacher. Sometimes I will ask her for advice on yoga-specific topics, usually about meditation and philosophy since that is her forté. Often, it is just nice to connect with her because I respect and trust her so much. It is important to stay close to your roots and remember the foundations from where your journey began.
If you are newly graduated, assisting in your teacher’s classes can be also be helpful to improve your hands-on experience. This gives you the chance to observe different bodies and how they uniquely move while still learning from your teacher and how they manage the dynamics of group classes. Assisting in classes may also reveal opportunities for you to substitute teach, since your mentor will trust you to know the flow of class, and students will already be comfortable with your presence.
3. Find a niche (sub-specialize!)
“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” —Napoleon Hill
As yoga develops as an ever more ubiquitous activity, many yoga teachers find that having a 200-hour training often is not enough to land a job at their favorite studio. Having additional certifications and specializations can make your resume standout to a studio manager, especially if it is a niche that can be added as a class category on their schedule.
Specialized classes such as Yin Yoga, restorative yoga, or yoga for athletes, back pain relief, or cancer recovery may make all the difference in getting you noticed. This can also increase your knowledge base and confidence, which benefits your students as well. As you look for specialty trainings that interest you, lean toward those that offer a lot of time dedicated to hands-on experience. Also, if you take specialty trainings, you may discover a new passion to pursue. And once you’ve found your niche, it allows you to attract students who will seek you out for your specific skill set.
4. Practice, practice, practice
“Do your practice and all is coming.” —K. Pattabhi Jois
This point may seem intuitive, but after certification, many yoga teachers start picking up so many subbing opportunities and regular classes that they neglect their own yoga practice. Teaching is hard on the body, and when you teach a lot, it becomes even more important to keep up with your practice for your own well-being. Schedule time to practice a several times a week so that you can stay in touch with your own studies.
Your personal practice is also the best way to maintain creativity in your teaching. When you feel yoga postures within the mechanics of your own body, you can better understand the challenges your students may face, and how to offer methods of accessibility in each posture. Remind yourself to stay close to the joys of the practice and do so regularly—for yourself as well as your students.
5. It is OK to not be perfect
“It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes—it is inevitable.” —Maya Angelou
Repeat after me: “It is OK that I am not perfect.” Say it again. “It is OK that I am not perfect.” In fact, you are perfect in your imperfections—we all are. I have observed so many newly minted yoga teachers stop in their tracks when they mess up a cue or say the incorrect Sanskrit word, and apologize profusely for the mistake. In reality, mistakes happen, and it is quite likely that no one else will notice but you. And even if they do, they will forgive you and not think any less of you.
We all come to yoga to connect with our own sense of human-ness and to open ourselves to vulnerability. That includes you. Students appreciate instructors who are genuinely human and are not afraid to show it. We don’t have to be perfect; we don’t even have to be awesome. What you must do is show up prepared, on time, and with your heart open. And remember, for every yoga teacher you highly respect, they have made just as many mistakes as you will, maybe even more. So, forgive yourself like you would forgive your teacher. And give yourself permission to laugh at the mistakes.
6. Put yourself out there
“Do or do not, there is no try.” —Yoda
You received your training certificate because you love yoga. But do you love teaching? This is an important question to ask yourself regularly as you begin and continue your teaching journey. If you love teaching, pursue that path with all your might. Your classes will fill if you persist toward your goals.
However, if as you begin teaching you realize that you feel depleted, burned out, or that teaching just doesn’t bring you joy, reconsider your teaching career. Be comfortable with making the shifts you need for your mental and emotional health, so that when you do show up, you can be there full of energy and excitement. And if the answer is that you want to teach, know that you won’t accomplish much by sitting on your couch and hoping that you will be discovered. You have to get out there and meet people, take classes and workshops, and, as Yoda put it: “Do.”