You know how it is: Teacher training is a high point in life. It's hard work, but blissful to be so fully immersed in practicing yoga and delving into the deeper layers of anatomy, philosophy and alignment.
You bond so beautifully with your fellow trainees — a group of kindred spirits, drawn together by a love of yoga, and a heartfelt desire to share it with the world.
This desire is now amplified even further by the unexpected and powerful moments of healing and growth facilitated by your deeper commitment to daily practice.
The graduation ceremony felt charged with a sense of achievement, destiny, and a desire to be of service, to discover the path of right livelihood, a readiness to apply your hard-won knowledge, tools and experience in the community.
But on emerging into the yoga marketplace, we usually find there are some challenges to surmount. Discovering the path toward teaching yoga as a career has to do with more than desire, training and enthusiasm.
As a 20-year teacher, teacher trainer and the founder of Yoga Teacher Grad School, I find that honesty about the challenges we face can be relieving and useful in terms of finding a way forward.
Here is my advice on how to engage in the beginning of your teaching career.
The image we have in our mind is usually of teaching a class at our favorite studio. This is what our favorite teachers do, right? A "prime time" class, of course: weekend mornings or evenings after people get off work. That’s not too much to manifest, is it? We might imagine teacher training as a stepping-stone to this kind of packed class, but the truth is there are quite a few more steps to take!
It's natural to feel discouraged at first. Breaking into these class times is difficult, and usually comes after paying your dues for a few years. If you were counting on the idea of having a few busy yoga classes to pay your bills, this may send you into a bit of a panic.
So, here’s your 3-part strategy
Play the long game
Playing the long game means accepting the gradual progression from the on-call sub list to perhaps a lunch time or donation-based community class, to having a regular class on the schedule at an odd time, to eventually getting an opportunity to teach a prime time class, to this level of exposure putting workshops and retreats within your grasp.
You are building your reputation, establishing your credibility, growing the community of people who benefit what you do so uniquely. Each step of the way matters and requires patience and hard work.
Each time you teach, whether subbing a class with five people at 2:00 in the afternoon, covering the gentle yoga for beginners class, or teaching your own time slot, you want every person in that room to walk away with a positive feeling about their experience. They should feel that you care, that you are professional, that they benefited from being in your presence. Delivering yoga in this way every day to small groups of new people who don’t know your name is what builds your community and establishes your reputation.
This moves you in the direction of being eligible for a prime time class, and builds an interested and loyal group of students who will want to learn more from you in workshops and come away on retreat. The long game means building this reality person-by-person, class-by-class.
The real world situation here is that you don’t make much money from these classes at first, and sometimes for a long time.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Let the long game of growing your public classes (and email list) and the career opportunities they will afford you be what it is. In the meantime, build a private yoga business.
Most new teachers don’t realize how much more financially lucrative and reliable a private yoga business can be if you do it right. I suggest aiming for 10 one-hour private yoga sessions per week. Identify your strengths and the specific types of private clients you want to teach, create some basic marketing materials (business cards, a simple web page) and start putting the word out that you teach private yoga.
If you have other skills and training that might be a good fit with teaching yoga, consider including these in what you offer privately: massage, coaching, nutritional counseling, aromatherapy, even more conventional services like hairdressing can be cross-promoted and offered to your yoga community.
If you have a part-time job, keep it. If you have a full-time job that can be made part-time as you start teaching, do it.
Diversifying takes the pressure off your public class teaching and lets you enjoy the process of playing the long game, developing relationships and moving forward in a realistic way.
My last suggestion is to maintain an attitude of being a lifelong student. Keep learning. Let your students and their injuries, their structural imbalances, their emotional responses to certain poses or themes, the way they communicate with you (and of course how you find yourself responding or reacting to them) be part of the graduate course in teaching yoga.
Keep studying, keep talking with more experienced teachers, stay in touch with mentors who can support you in continuing to grow. Keep taking workshops and trainings with the best teachers you can find. Anatomy, psychology, communication, and even marketing, are all subjects we can keep learning about and refining for decades. The more you keep learning, the stronger and more diverse your skill set will be, and the more effective, successful and integrated a teacher you will become.
For me, nothing has been as fun, as rewarding, as humbling and as moving as teaching yoga. The dream is real, but the path to get there requires getting real with ourselves and embracing the journey as it is.
I hope this article supports you to take the next steps in your yoga career! Please feel free to leave me any comments on:
How you are going to embrace "the long game" today. What you strategy to "diversify" might be. How you are going to "keep learning" this year.
I am here for you!