What determines if you as a Yoga teacher have been successful?
How could you define the success of a Yoga class, a workshop, or retreat you taught as a Yoga teacher? When can you claim that students gained something from your teaching? I guess there are thousand ways of describing that. One of my favorite definitions of a Yogi is by David Swenson and it goes something like this:
„A Yogi is somebody who always leaves a place better than they found it.“
If I use that for my definition of a Yoga teacher, it would be:
A Yoga teacher is somebody who inspires a change in their students for the better, in whatever form that might be.
Of course that leaves a lot of options for possible change for the better. Students might leave the Yoga class uplifted, inspired to be their most authentic self, more flexible or stronger, more centered and connected to themselves, relieved of pain or strain, or just feeling slightly blissful and carrying this subtle smile on their faces and vibrant glow in their whole being.
So let’s look at some of the elements that enhance the teaching experience from the perspective of a Yoga teacher:
The elements of great teaching – experience, knowledge and empathy
Teaching from a strong base of your own experience
I love the idea of always being a student first. I feel like it builds a firm base for our teaching and builds the confidence we need to transmit a certain practice from a deeper understanding.
By sharing your own experience and feeling confident with it, you will also be much more comfortable dealing with the questions and demands of your students, speaking in front of them and giving lectures and workshops. At the same time you should also be confident enough to know what you don’t know and tell a student if you are not sure about something. This is better than making something up just to appear all knowing.
Sharing Yoga in that way will give the student skilled guidance and a feeling of getting firm advice and – over time – build trust.
Knowledge – discover, study and understand what you teach
A Yogi and Yoga teacher is a life-long learner. There is always something more to know, new details to discover and different aspects to understand.
New knowledge about anatomy, philosophy and spirituality, physiological aspects of meditation, energetic and mechanical details of breathing, the secrets of pulse reading and Ayurveda, different ways to regulate and consciously control the nervous system … the list is endless and luckily modern science as well as the ancient Yoga texts provide us with infinite material to study. And if you are lucky, you as a Yoga teacher have a teacher yourself that can transmit a vast amount of knowledge to you and inspire you to dig deeper.
And being genuinely interested in everything around your subject of teaching is not only a big part of making your teachings interesting. If you keep learning, your excitement about sharing your (new) knowledge will improve the experience students have listening to you enormously and keep them coming back for more as they know that you are still studying and developing.
Empathy: be open towards the needs of your students
Being a Guide for the student requires empathy which requires experience (see above).
As a teacher you have to be extremely empathic towards the students in order to guide them through “rough times” (i.e. when they have to work to accomplish for example an asana). Just giving them encouragement all the time and letting them back off when feeling uncomfortable will not realize the student’s full potential. By-passing the students ego, laziness and moodiness and pushing them over their (mental) limit can bring them to new horizons and make them realize their own potential.
But … to do that without pushing them too far and possibly injuring them, you need to be very empathic and experienced. You have to know as exactly as possible what the student is going through in each and every moment.
Also know that the student’s experience might be completely different from your own. What is easy for you might be hard for them. This might be especially challenging for rather gifted students who become teachers quite fast and approach their students with an attitude of „What is so hard about this?” We, as teachers, have to always acknowledge the challenges of students and guide them, keeping a positive attitude, yet not pushing the student too fast.
In fact, don’t try to teach your students at all! Rather inspire them to investigate themselves so they can unfold their potential and get over their own roadblocks.
A Yoga teacher can support and guide the process, but the student has to do the work.
You as the teacher have to get rid of any goal orientation towards what your students should be able to do. Be patient with your student so the student can be patient with themselves.
Teaching Yoga can be a beautiful service to the world. Give selflessly and from the heart, share your knowledge without holding anything back, stay humble and share from your own experience! Enjoy it!
Tip for young Yoga teachers: A lot of elements determine the student’s experience. With teaching practice we can get better in all of these over time. Don’t feel overwhelmed and think you are not ready if you don’t feel perfectly prepared in all the above. We have to start somewhere. If you feel the urge to share Yoga with others, do it, but do it with a humble attitude. Always share from your personal experience and nothing will go wrong – Never teach things you don’t practice yourself! And the more you practice the better you will get and the more subtle you can tune into what the students need at any moment from you. Practice practice practice, and all is coming… !
Now what do you think makes a great Yoga teacher? Please share in the comments section what you like about your Yoga teacher and what makes you leave a Yoga class better than before!