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A Clear Approach for Dealing with the Stresses of Teaching Yoga

Before the article, a quick plug for an upcoming program focused on teachers that need to renew and revitalize themselves: The first two Teacher Renewal Programs of 2017 (London and Seattle) are sold out. Please check out my schedule to join me this year for these unique programs in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles.

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Let’s face it, you probably put more pressure on yourself as a teacher than you ever anticipated. These pressures may be the real, black-and-white stresses of making a living and supporting yourself or your family. Or, they may be the perceived, “keeping up with the Joneses” type of pressure. You know, the ones where you lose sleep because your Instagram and Facebook page is not growing as quickly as everyone else’s—or, the class before yours at the studio had twice the number of students that yours did.

These challenges are part of the inner-landscape of teaching yoga in the modern era. Very few instructors avoid these stressors entirely — I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years and some days I’m still right there with you.

Although, these pressures are normal, natural parts of making a living as a yoga instructor, it’s important to learn to manage and transcend them. Fortunately, I believe there’ s a path to staying grounded, focused, and content as an instructor. The key is to keep your teaching real, accessible, and relevant for your students.

Here’s my advice for connecting with your students and keeping your teaching honest, real, and practical:

WITNESS YOUR STUDENTS

I love having a job where I’m able to express myself. I’m mindful, though, that I can get so wrapped up expressing a teaching that—ironically—I stop paying attention to my students and become absorbed with articulating a concept or theme. Whether it’s getting lost momentarily in your playlist, sequence, technique, or philosophical agenda, all teachers face the challenge of focusing on the students that in the room.

Being aware of this challenge is the first step in transcending it. The next step is focusing your attention on your students’ body and breath. Watch your students’ eyes, arms, legs, and feet. Watch your students breathe. Trust that you don’t have to impress your students. You just have to witness them clearly.

EMBRACE REPETITION

Most teachers are fearful of sounding like a broken record. Of course, they are—who wouldn’t be? But, when you teach yoga you are teaching a subject. In order to teach a subject, you need to repeat, repeat, repeat. And, repeat. Imagine you are teaching someone a new language, or how to do math, or play an instrument. Would you be concerned about repetition then? By embracing repetition, you are embracing education.

DON’T CONFLATE BEING COMPLICATED WITH BEING AUTHENTIC

You don’t have to be complicated or difficult to be authentic. Most of the teachings we yearn to share with our students are simple: we want to teach people how to breathe, how to listen to their body, how to be less judgmental, how to release unnecessary tension, and so on. These are our “authentic” teachings and expressing them in simple, clear ways honors our dharma.

KEEP THINGS ACCESSIBLE

Pressing into handstand, doing complicated arm-balances, and experimenting with deep backbends make for good social media clips. They are striking, inspiring poses that speak to our aspirations. They are also good, interesting things to include in your advanced classes—I work on these poses, I teach them, and I post them on social media platforms.

That said, we have to remember that these poses are not terribly realistic for the vast majority of students. It’s incredibly valuable to experiment with your edge and encourage your students to do so from time-to-time. But, let’s not get carried away—or become convinced that harder poses provide more benefits than simple poses. Feel free to challenge your students, but make sure that your classes are chock full of postures that your students can do with precision and care.

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