Happy yoga birthday to me! 18th July 2013 marked the anniversary of teaching my very first solo yoga class, so naturally this got me pondering what I’ve learned from my first year as a yoga teacher…
Where it all began …
So, to rewind a little over a year. In April 2012 I qualified as a Dru yoga teacher. I was full of excitement, enthusiasm … and more than a little trepidation.
I spent a while finding a location, planning ideas, setting up my website, starting my Facebook page and Twitter feed, getting posters and leaflets printed. I spent hours distributing my posters etc to local shops, cafes and libraries, and pounded the pavements delivering about 700 flyers through front doors to homes close to the location for my class.
Leading up to my first classes on Wednesday 18th July 2012, I was excited and nervous. What if no-one turned up? Trust the universe to bring me students, I told myself. But what if the universe isn’t listening and I’m teaching an empty room?! So be it, I told myself. Keep turning up and practice non-attachment to the outcome, I told myself…
So, 18th July came and … no-one turned up to my 6pm class and two lovely ladies came to my 7.30pm class.
But I was off! Finally following my vocation to teach yoga
… And how it continued
The following week I had three people in my 6pm class and no-one in my 7.30pm class. Hey ho…
And so it continued; up and down and very small numbers. I started another class at a different location on a Thursday evening, sometimes I was teaching one or two people; other times the class was cancelled because no-one had booked.
But I was teaching yoga. Even if it was to one person: I was doing what I loved. I was putting into practise all that I learned over my two-year teacher training course and 12 years of my own practice.
And actually, teaching to small numbers as a newly-qualified yoga teacher was good for me. I could focus on each student’s individual needs. I could see where I needed to improve my descriptions of movements; I could sense what worked and what didn’t. I could see how different people experienced postures very differently. I could begin to sense the energetic effects of yoga on the students. All of this was much easier to pick up teaching a small group than if I’d launched straight away into teaching large groups.
Carry on yoga teacher
But, I must be honest: those first 6 months of teaching could be quite stressful. I have a tendency to anxiety and worrying what people think of me – so having no-one turn up but still having room hire to pay could make me anxious about money; having someone turn up once then never again could make me think “nooo, they didn’t like me”, sniff, sniff…
But I carried on. I noticed the anxieties and fear; I noticed the minus balance on my spread sheet, took a few deep breaths, and carried on anyway.
Because teaching yoga felt right. I knew that Dru yoga would help people who never thought yoga was for them – it could help people with bad backs, stiff limbs, or low self-esteem. That it would help people discover and experience deeper layers of themselves. It would help them find stillness and ease and to connect to the present moment.
So I trusted in myself, trusted in the teachings, and trusted that people who could benefit from my yoga teaching would find me.
And they did.
I’m now teaching two classes a week and have regular private 1-2-1 clients. That’s enough for me at the moment because I’m also working part-time. I’m now slowly and surely establishing myself as a yoga teacher and doing what I love: helping people to help themselves with yoga.
But my original Wednesday night classes had to fall by the wayside. It took me a while to see that they weren’t working. I’ll never know why – perhaps it was the location, the time, the day… who knows.
What was fascinating to discover though, is why I spent so long trying to make them work even though I was losing money every week and expending energy pondering what to do about it.
I had rented a church hall and I was teaching two classes there in one evening. Somewhere in my mind I had decided that’s what yoga teachers do. They teach public classes, aimed at anyone and everyone, in a church hall. And while I had started up two other classes – one in my workplace and one at a local health club – I had created an attachment to the idea of teaching classes in a church hall, which I found difficult to let go!
But as soon as I stopped those Wednesday evening classes (whose numbers had dwindled in the New Year to one on a good night and zero for the rest), the numbers in my other classes took off! (Thank you universe.)
What I’ve learned
So what have these past 12 months taught me about teaching yoga?
Have trust – I have built up a depth of knowledge and experience to draw upon from my own years of practising yoga and my teacher training; I am learning to trust that what the people in front of me need will come through my teaching if I trust in my knowledge and my instinct.
Keep going – keep turning up each week for class and practise non-attachment to the outcome. Whether one person comes or 10 – it doesn’t matter.
Follow your heart – sometimes, I get caught up in worrying whether I’m pitching the posture work at the right level. Is it too easy? Is there enough flow? How long should we do each pose for? Are they bored? Am I rushing it? I haven’t yet found the answer to this! Other than to follow my intuition and let my love of yoga shine through…
Not everyone will connect with my teaching and that is something every yoga teacher has to accept. There are so many reasons why – most of which I can do nothing to control. Instead, I’ve learned that the people who come to my class are enjoying and benefiting from their experience and to honour that. I have something unique to offer: no two teachers can possibly teach the same.
Keep your own practice up – this can be difficult when you’re busy (I also work part-time in a job but teaching yoga does not feel like work to me, it’s feels the most natural and rewarding thing in the world). But as a yoga teacher I am still, and always will be, a yoga student. As I practise, things I notice inform my teaching. As I teach, I learn more about the practice as it is expressed in the bodies, breath, emotions and minds of those in front of me. There is so much more to learn – whether through daily practice or further study.
The mirror effect
Standing in front of class teaching yoga is a vulnerable thing to do. It can become a mirror that, if you’re not aware, can reflect back to you your deepest fears. For me, that’s worrying whether I’m doing the right thing; worrying that they’ll like me.
But it can also be a mirror which shine your great qualities back to you, that maybe you’d never recognised in yourself before.
I’ve discovered that I’m strong and committed – that I can be single-minded (in a good way!). That I love to help people and I bring empathy to my teaching. That I can let words and inspiration flow through me without having to over-prepare and worry that my mind will go blank (always a worry before in previous jobs when I had to get up and speak to people!). That I bring an easy humour to my teaching. That I enable people to feel comfortable when they’re in my class (I had to be told that by someone for me to recognise that though – acknowledging good things about yourself isn’t always easy is it?!).
I would like to thank all of the teachers of yoga I have had the honour to learn from:
- In Cardiff: Mary Madhavi – who introduced me to yoga and started me on this wonderful journey
- In the Midlands: Tony Wilmott in Stafford and Sue Homer in Wolverhampton – who introduced me to Dru
- From Dru: my wonderful teachers from my training course – Louise Rowan, Orina Murphy, Nigel Murphy, Ruth Boaler, Joshna Patel, Ganga Marvin, Susan Kulas. I am deeply grateful to every one of you.
- In Hampshire: Richard Parker – I wish I could make it more often to your yoga chant class – and Laura Fisher for sharing your experience of setting up and building a yoga business.
Thank you to my mum for suggesting I try yoga in the first place all those years ago.
Thank you to my husband for supporting me in so many ways through my journey to becoming and establishing myself as a yoga teacher.
And thank you to all of the people who have come to my classes so far – for your presence, your practice, your patience, and for enabling me to follow my calling…
Stella Tomlinson teaches Dru yoga in Southampton, UK. Dru yoga is a flowing and therapeutic style of yoga, characterised by graceful movements, directed breathing, relaxation techniques and working with affirmations and visualisations. Connect with Stella via Facebook and Twitter.