Last week I experienced a huge milestone in my yoga teaching career…I taught my first class! This time, it wasn’t teacher training or volunteering my time to teach a class. I was legitimately on the schedule and getting paid to teach an hour-long class to 16 yogis. 16!!
Let me back up a bit. At the beginning of January, I accepted an internship at CorePower Yoga, which means I get paid to teach 25 Hot Power Fusion (the CPY format I’m currently trained in) yoga classes and assist five other HPF classes taught by seasoned teachers. At the end of my internship, I meet with the studio manager who will tell me how well I did, what I can improve on and hopefully offer me a permanent class or two on the schedule going forward.
I need to make a confession here. I don’t know how many times I tried talking myself out of auditioning for the internship to teach yoga at CPY. It’s not that I didn’t want to teach yoga. I was just so scared. I really had a lot of doubt about my teaching capabilities, and myself even though I knew I had a solid training background. Would I be a good teacher? What if I forgot my cues? Would I be able to manage the heat, humidity, music and lights during class? Would I be able to offer safe hands-on adjustments to students? What if my students didn’t like me? What if? What if? I spent countless hours practicing my cues in order to prepare for the audition. Whenever I got the feeling that I might not want to go through with the audition, I reminded myself why I wanted to teach yoga in the first place. Before I knew it, I was walking into the Ballard studio to audition. This eventful night led me to accepting my internship with CPY, which then led me to teaching my first class.
I’m happy to report that my first class of teaching yoga was a success! I didn’t run out of the studio in fear, even though the thought had crossed my mind five minutes into starting class. No one laughed at me when I stumbled over a couple of cues here and there, mixing up a couple of rights and lefts. Nobody said anything when I pressed the wrong button and started playing Pandora instead of turning up the volume. None of the yogis walked out before class was finished. And I’m pretty sure no one noticed I added an extra Downward Facing Dog once I realized I almost forgot to cue Half Pigeon. I ended up having fun, finished class on time and got a couple of high fives from a few yogis on the way out.
My first class of being a yoga teacher ended up being a lot of fun. It was also a huge learning experience. Here are five things I learned from teaching my first yoga class:
1. Just Breathe
I know this sounds silly, but breathing with my students helped calm my nerves in a big way. Once I started cueing the breath and postures, I found myself taking inhales and exhales with my students. Focusing on my breathing helped calm my nerves as I taught class. Eventually I stopped worrying about how nervous I was and started watching the bodies in the room getting into and out of the postures I was cueing. It was in that moment when I realized I was speaking to the bodies in the room, not just reciting the flashcards in my head. Super exciting stuff.
2. Something Will Go Awry
No matter how prepared I thought I was, the one thing I couldn’t prepare myself for were the mishaps. Mishaps will happen and they don’t discriminate against new or seasoned teachers. Mishaps happen no matter how long you’ve been teaching yoga. I had no clue what would go wrong during class, but I did my best to prepare myself for how I’d handle a mishap situation. For my first class, the mishap was when I pressed the wrong button at the start of the Core section of my class. Instead of turning up the volume like I thought I was doing, I hit the Pandora button, which started playing the spa-like music that was playing out in the lobby instead of my upbeat Core song. Luckily I was able to quickly recover from the situation without having a public melt down and went forward with class.
3. Go With The Flow
So I messed up. I pushed the wrong button. I almost forgot a posture. I cued to set up on the left leg instead of the right leg. No big deal. When this type of stuff happens, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Just go with the flow and act like nothing happened. It’s actually pretty easy to keep the class moving forward when you don’t acknowledge the mistakes you make. Instead, act like it’s all part of the experience.
There was a point during class when I knew the Spine Strengthening Series was coming up so I started to cue the students to come all the way down to their mat. I paused for a millisecond and realized something wasn’t right. I had skipped over Half Pigeon, one of the most beloved postures in the series! Instead of panicking, I went with the flow, like it was part of the sequence. I cued everyone to come up to a Table Top position, then push their hips back into Downward Dog and brought them all into Half Pigeon. Just like that, we were back on track with class. So what if there was one extra Downward Facing Dog? No one seemed to notice or if they did, they didn’t care.
4. It’s Not About You. Really, It’s Not
One advantage to teaching yoga by candlelight in a dark room? None of the 16 yogis taking my class could see the fear on my face. None of them knew how scared and nervous I was. None of them had any idea I had spent 45 minutes before class sitting in my car in front of the studio reciting my cues while listening to my playlist because I was afraid I’d mess up the cues during class. None of the yogis had a clue I was worried whether they’d like me or not. They didn’t even know this was my first time teaching a yoga class until I announced my confession after class. Only I knew how nervous and scared I was. Only I worried about forgetting a cue or leaving out a posture. Only I worried if they’d like me or not. The yogis were there to practice yoga. I was there to guide them through their journey. If you’re worried about what your students are thinking about you, don’t because it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s their class and their yoga practice. As a yoga teacher, you’re just there to guide them through it with cues and words of encouragement.
5. It’s The Practice Room, Not The Perfect Room
One of my all-time favorite Bikram Yoga teachers would say during class, “It’s the practice room, not the perfect room.” Whenever he would say this, I’d always laugh and think he was just being nice whenever I fell out of a posture during class. It wasn’t until I started yoga teacher training when I realized what he was really saying. The point of yoga is not to do every single posture correctly or even to reach the final expression of the posture. It’s about showing up on your mat for your own practice. It’s about how you set yourself up for a posture. Yoga is not perfect and neither are we. This is why it’s a yoga practice.
This same idea goes for teaching yoga. No matter how many hours I’ve spent in yoga teacher training, memorizing my cues and practice teaching, I knew I’d never deliver all of the cues 100% perfectly, all of the time. I had to let that perfection stuff go. Giving myself the space to be imperfect and to add some of my own personality into my cues reminded me of the wise words my teacher, “It’s the practice room, not the perfect room.” I’m not here to be a perfect yoga student or a perfect yoga teacher. I want the freedom to show up to class as myself, both as the student and the teacher. I want to feel comfortable teaching yoga in all of the classes I teach. I want my students to feel comfortable in all of the classes they take with me. I want to be able to laugh at myself when I make a mistake. I want to have fun. I want my students to have fun. Who said yoga has to be so serious? I teach yoga because it’s fun. Yoga has played such a huge, positive role in my life and now that I get to teach yoga, I get to share my love for yoga with anyone who takes my class.
So yeah, my first class of teaching yoga wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t want it to be. It was so much fun and such a huge learning experience. I learned so many valuable lessons about my own practice and myself while teaching my first class. I look forward to teaching many more classes, even if deep down inside, I’m still a little bit nervous.