How do we develop our skills as Yoga teachers?
And can we differentiate between being a good yoga practitioner from being a good yoga teacher? After 20 years of being the person in front of the class, (teaching) and 24 years of being in other people’s classes (learning), I can say it is definitely a process. It flows. It peaks. It crashes. We succeed. We fail.
Becoming an awesome yoga teacher takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. Our skills develop slowly. Gradually. Stealthily. Often by trial and error. Sometimes by accident. And sometimes through divine guidance, intuition, a direct download from a higher source. Some days you finish your class with a feeling that magic happened. You see the radiant glow and peaceful smile on your students’ faces.
Some days you finish your class with a feeling that you didn’t quite hit the spot. It was a mess. It was disjointed. The energy was low. We learn from each and every experience on, and off, our mats. And we learn from each and every person we share our yoga spaces with.
1. We Learn from our Students
Observe your students. Create opportunities for dialogue. Listen to their questions. Listen to their answers.
This can be scary and intimidating when you just start out. For the first couple of years, we feel insecure, possibly even uncomfortable in our teacher zone. Our attention can be dampened by the “am I doing OK?”, “do they understand me?”, “did I do that right?”, “do they even like me?!” internal dialogue. This is a part of the process. But as we relax more into our teaching, as we become more confident, more skillful, we can start to cultivate an opportunity for shared discoveries, engaging with your students.
This will firstly deepen the opportunity for self-study, self-awareness and reflection for your students. And secondly, you will start to gather a wealth of information, the collective experiences and awarenesses of those who have placed their mats at your feet. Ask questions like:-
“how does that feel”
“does anyone else experience [fill in the blank] when you do this?”
“did anyone practice that [meditation/pranayama] technique last week at home?”
“how has your [mindset/personality/stress level] changed since you started your yoga practice?”
“where do you feel that most?”
The more we offer an opportunity for sharing, the more our students will offer up their insights. And when you start to collect these awarenesses and insights, you start to develop a deeper, more expansive understanding of yoga, and especially how to teach it.
The more you teach, the more you learn. There are no shortcuts.
2. We learn from our Own Practice
We can only teach what we fully understand, what we have taken the time to unpack, to delve into, to unravel.
Every time we step onto our mat and into the blank canvas of our personal practice, we give ourselves the opportunity to learn, to grow. Personal practice in this context means your home practice. When you are by yourself, on your mat, or your zafu, discovering and unfolding. No tutor, no DVD, no podcast. Just you.
What does your personal practice consist of?
Your personal practice is the ideal training ground to test out new ideas, new theories, new techniques. It gives you the opportunity to dig deeper into an area that interests you. If you want to teach meditation in your classes, develop a personal meditation practice. If you want to teach pranayama techniques, integrate them into your home practice. Yoga Nidra? Put on a CD and give yourself the gift of half an hour to completely relax and experience the bliss of stillness.
Your personal practice is where you put in the hard hours, so that you can transfer the knowledge and wisdom gained into your classes. It forms the backbone of developing your skills as a yoga teacher.
3. We learn from Other Teachers
There are 3 ways to harness the wisdom of other yoga teachers to develop our own teaching.
Explore other Classes in your Area
When you first start teaching, every other tutor is a source of inspiration. You are a sponge, soaking up everything you can find. After 10 or so years, you start to become a little more discriminative, seeking out those tutors who have something more to offer you, something you don’t already know.
DVDs, Online Yoga subscriptions, YouTube, Podcasts. Or if you’re ‘old school’ like me, Books. Tons and tons of books.
Attend CPD Days and Retreats
These are more formalised activities that are designed to enhance your teaching and your personal practice. They usually look at a specific element in more detail, and one of the criteria for CPD events is that you will gain additional knowledge that you can implement in your teaching. CPD days are often looked at as a necessary evil – you have to get so many points/hours accrued for your insurance/membership. However, they can be an amazing opportunity to learn something new, or to deepen your existing knowledge.
You can be creative with your CPD accrual. Many internationally acclaimed Tutors come to the UK and run weekend and week long trainings. You may have to travel and stay overnight, but how else would you get the opportunity to work with Shiva Rea, Paul Grilley, Sarah Powers, Donna Fahri……….
You could even spend some time at the Mandala Yoga Ashram in Wales and experience yoga in its truest form. They run in-depth courses that will enhance your deeper understanding of yoga. With great walking opportunities in the beautiful Welsh hills.
A week long course here will fulfil your CPD requirements for a year and still have some spare to carry over!
Developing our skills can be interesting, rewarding, sometimes even mind-blowing and enlightening. It takes time and energy, but it will ultimately make us better teachers, which in turn means our students have a better yoga experience.
What are your favourite ways to develop your teaching skills? What mind-blowing training experiences have you had? Feel free to share your comments below.