With palms together and head bowed, I could feel a familiar tingle in my nose; a fiery sensation, growing steadily and slowly creeping up toward my eyes. As my first hour of teaching yoga drew to a close, I was deepening my breath for an unusual purpose — to fight back tears of joy. Every part of me had been directed toward this moment for years, eager to share this practice that had so radically transformed my life. As a result, my first teaching experiences were colored with overwhelming happiness and gratitude for being on this path.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before I invited doubt to pull up a seat right alongside me on the mat. Fast-forward a few classes and that familiar, fiery tingle was much stronger. I bee-lined for the exit, tears spilling quietly down my cheeks as my feet whisked me away from the studio. This time, they were not tears of joy, but of sadness, fear and frustration. The doubts and questions running around in my mind had taken over and I was, at the time, unable to take a step back in order to deal with them rationally.
In the hope that I can save others the same despair, here I will address some doubts common to those who are new to the journey of yoga teaching.
5 Common Self-Doubts About Teaching Yoga
'I'm Not a Good Enough Teacher'
Personally, I don’t believe that anyone who is fresh out of a yoga teacher training will skip confidently into their first class and feel like a good enough teacher. When your inner critic starts this kind of negative monologue, it can be helpful to pause and ask yourself who you need to be “good enough” for.
This doubt is perfectly normal as you start out, and only goes to show how much you care about your students and your role in their yoga journey. After all, to have made it this far, you are likely to be dedicated to both yoga and teaching. If your heart is in it and you give it your all, there’s really nothing more required of you to be good enough — whether it’s for yourself or your students.
(Like Rachel, here are The 5 Virtues of a Good Yoga Teacher.)
'I Don't Have Enough Experience'
Studio teaching can be daunting. If you’re surrounded by teachers with decades of experience, it’s quite natural for the monkey mind to slip into comparisons. Remember that those around you have been through the exact same feeling; they are the same beautifully imperfect human beings fumbling their way through the same universal challenges that we all face. If you’re always reaching for the future and worrying about how far you still have to go, it’s impossible to fully appreciate where you are right now. Ditch perfection for progress and remember that the only way you will gain experience is to keep on teaching!
'My Students Might Not Enjoy My Class'
Have you ever attended a yoga class where it’s obvious that the teacher is having a bad day? Once you tune in, it’s easy to pick up on the vibes of those around you — both the good and the bad. Rather than worrying about whether or not the students are enjoying themselves, focus on the pleasure of teaching! If you are enjoying teaching your class, it’s most likely that your students are enjoying it, too. Don’t forget to relax, smile and be playful when the mood takes you. Yoga needn’t always be serious!
'Teaching Will Ruin My Personal Enjoyment of Yoga'
Wondering whether teaching will ruin your personal enjoyment of yoga? The answer to this one is simple: only if you let it! Each time you step onto the mat, whether alone or in front of a room full of people, try to approach yoga with the curiosity of a beginner, as though you are exploring the sensations for the first time. It’s also important to keep planning and teaching separate from your sadhana. In doing so, your personal practice will remain sacred, no matter what teaching throws at you. Besides, personal practice is exactly that — personal. Do your best to keep it that way and yoga will be as enjoyable as it has always been for you.
'I May Not Be Assisting or Correcting Properly'
I’m sure that every new yoga teacher has questioned him/herself about this countless times, and it may take a lot of patience and practice before you can be sure. First and foremost, try to covertly ascertain whether or not students are okay with hands-on assistance, as this is not a given. Being touched by a stranger can be uncomfortable or even triggering for some. Start by offering intelligent cues; more often than not, a student will be able to correct themselves given the right verbal guidance.
(This is part of 'Holding Space': What It Means for Yoga Teachers and You.)
It’s helpful to remind yourself that every body is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to asana. Yoga shouldn’t be about creating precise, rigid shapes — no bones in our body form a perfect straight line, and the expression of postures may look completely different from person to person. The best thing you can do to gain confidence in assisting students toward safe alignment is to study hard and know your stuff. There are very few professions that hand out qualifications after only a month of training and it is your duty as a yoga teacher to keep on learning, exploring, researching and investigating. Don’t forget that even as a teacher, you will always be a student of yoga.
From Fear to Flourishing
Without a doubt, being a yoga teacher is humbling. Not everyone will like your style, not every student will enjoy your class. This is a fact, but it's also part of your growth as a teacher. Addressing whatever doubts and questions come your way from a positive perspective is vital to not being held back. As long as you are dedicated, inquisitive and never stop trying to learn and improve, you will be sure to flourish. Above all, don’t be afraid to share your fears with other teachers along the way. I know I was, and it wasn’t until I began to recognize, accept and tackle these doubts that I was able to overcome them and switch back to tears of joy.
(Continue reading for How 500 Hours of Yoga Teacher Training Changed Me.)