Below is an interview I did with Jessica Daniels of Speak Your Inspiration, regarding my experiences as a new yoga teacher. She is doing a series of interviews to inspire new teachers to get out there and teach despite their fear. I am happy to have the opportunity to share it with you!
Tell us about the first time you practiced yoga. can you remember how you felt?
I started practicing yoga in 1998 at my local gym. My teacher was incredible, inspirational, clear, so succinct in her instruction, and so knowledgeable about yoga, spirit, goddesses, dogma. I LOVED her classes, and was transported from my head to my heart and spirit every time I was in class.
What made you want to become a teacher?
During my second year of practice, my teacher offered her first teacher training, but it was expensive, intensive, and a year long. I wasn’t able to commit to it at the time, though I so longed to be part of that community, as well as to learn from my mentor and someone I so admired. I wanted to be able to do what she did: lead people to feel better in their bodies, their spirits, and leave the mundane to visit another realm for just an hour.
Fast forward 12 years, and at the same studio that my mentor created, I received my 200hr teacher training certification in January 2011. I then went on to earn my kids yoga certification in August of that year as well.
How did you feel the first time you taught a class?
The first time I had to teach was during my teacher training. We had to teach in front of our main instructor and our classmates. I was a wreck. I had come up with my lesson plan (which took me two days), and then I typed it up, and tried to memorize it. Granted, it was only a 20 minute class, since she wanted to see our sequencing, what our languaging was like, how our Sanskrit was, and if we would able to tie our poses and teaching to the pose of the month and the subject of the month (Ganesha). But I went into that class, and almost had a panic attack, and I had to go to the bathroom as least three times before I taught (in a 15 minute timespan). I doubted all of my learning, all of my 13 years of yoga practice, but I knew in order to pass, I had to do it. So I did. I referred to my lesson plan (on notecards) often, but had to let go of the extensive language I included in order to speak to the class directly (hard). I also had to go around and assist, which was helpful, because I was able to cue based on my observations. I remembered to use my music, which was good. At the end, though, my feedback was not so good. The teacher said I actually sounded like I was moaning during my ujjayi breathing, and as such she felt uncomfortable. She also commented on my OM, saying it was not right…and that was really the only thing I thought I was able to do right. But somehow, I passed. Yay!
I didn’t teach again for six months due to fear. I wanted to teach but I knew I would have to create my own opportunity to do so. I asked a few friends to come over and do a class in my living room. The class was ok, but they said I said Im sorry a lot…and I wasn’t even aware of it. It was as if I had selective memory loss about the entire class since I was so nervous.
Knowing that I would need to teach in front of more than one or two people, I put out a feeler to friends about studios that might be hiring. Someone I talked to at the local country club said they were looking to hire someone to teach yoga to members, and if I wanted I was hired (no audition). So there I had a weekly class for two months (until summers end). Turns out that only one member showed every week, and so she had a private every week, and I felt comfortable because privates were easy for me. No big class.
Now, more than a year later, I am teaching weekly 75 minute classes at the local YMCA (10-15 students per class), teaching kids yoga at a local camp (6-10 kids per session), and will soon be teaching at the local community college (50+ students a session).
I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t make a plan for class, outside of what chant or meditation I want to use, though sometimes if I have time or just got the new Yoga Journal, I might review a new pose that I want to cover.
I normally just see who’s in class, their ability, their level of comfort, and do the class on the fly. I have three different music playlists, depending on my mood, and I go with what comes to me. I tell my students that the only thing they have to do in class is breathe and have fun. I am known to throw in partner poses, and teach my class with all mats in a circle. I find that I am intuitively guided to teach what is needed (based on comments after class), and know that my 10 minute savasana with assist at the end is the delicious topping on the cake that is my class, and ensures students keep coming back for more (since that never happens at a YMCA, right?).
What do you want to share with new teachers?
I feel so much more comfortable when I trust my instincts now, let go of my fear about messing up, or saying the wrong thing, or they wont like me. Instead I pay attention to my students’ poses so I can cue what they need, I speak from my heart about spirit and don’t worry about talking about tantra or goddesses I don’t know much about, and I infuse laughter and compassion in my teaching and my assists, knowing that that is as important, if not more, as what I say and the poses I choose.
It took me teaching 4 full classes before I felt really comfortable leaving my pose sheet behind. I found that if I reviewed the class in my head before hand, not going over every pose, but just the outcome, everyone feeling great, refreshed, with smiles on their faces, I felt much more centered than if I questioned my playlist or would this pose be ok, etc.
I learned that not every body is going to love your entire class, and some wont come back. They might not all get what they need. But if you intend them too, and then let the class flow out of your intention, it will be amazing. And you will find the students that resonate with you will come back over and over again.
Every time I teach I l do it with intention to serve my students highest good. And every time I learn something new about myself, my practice, and my students.
What's your favorite yoga resource?
I have a collection of books that I love (the Key Muscles of Yoga books by Ray Long, books by BKS Iyengar), but most often, I will turn to the internet for inspiration. I love Sadie Nardini’s free yoga videos, Yoga Journal (magazine and online), and more. I am a visual learner so those help me a lot. I also refer to my teacher training manuals and my notes often, especially when teaching my kids yoga classes, just to remember the kids names for poses, instead of the normal or Sanskrit ones.
What quote most inspires you?
Maybe this sums it up best…a chant I use in my class a lot:
Lokah samastha sukino bhavantu
May all beings everywhere be happy and free.
Anything else you'd like to share?
I highly recommend that you check your ego and your fear at the door, trust in your divine knowing, and teach your heart out. In that way, you will touch your students’ hearts and lives.
And If anyone reading this is in the Doylestown, Pa area, and wants to come to my class, Spirit Flow, 8pm on Tuesday nights, contact me at my email Kelly@flyingdragonwellness.com and Ill get you a free pass. Namaste.