As some of you may know, I have now been actively teaching yoga for two years. The exciting part about this path is that no class is the same, no practice is the same, and it’s a great way to connect with different people. There are some people that come to my class that have a deep practice already, they do not want assistance or adjustments, whereas there are others that constantly need your attention. Typically I teach a hatha class, but I can certainly make it more accessible or more “flow” based depending on who attends.
My public class frequently attracts newcomers and first-time yogis. Being a small group is a good feature, allowing you to delve in to the unknown in a safe environment. Every time I meet someone who tells me that this is their first class, my excitement almost doubles. It allows me to hit a re-set button, remove all jargon, and teach a class based purely on foundation. The complicated sanskrit words are left unused, and instead the focus turns towards alignment and breath. This ensures that the attendee feels encouraged, learns slowly, and therefore, returns again for more.
Now, I have also experienced other teachers using a different method, which I’m not sure works very well. Recently I attended a class at a popular yoga studio, taught by an equally popular teacher. The bio was filled with key words emphasizing qualifications, values, oms, etc. Where could one go wrong? As the class was about to begin, the instructor aptly asked if there were any new students. One woman timidly raised her hand, and I mentally applauded her for deciding to take this step. I also sent some good vibes her way, hoping she gets the support she needs.
Class begins. Teacher says, “Okay everyone, you may start with an inversion of your choice. Headstand, down dog. Your choice.” Uh-oh. I immediately look at the woman and her confusion is obvious. She looks around the room, and decides to attempt a downward facing dog based on the person next to her. I look towards the teacher to go and offer her guidance. Every part of me is aching to help her, but no one moves.
As the class progressed, the yoga lingo continued, and each time the woman got visibly upset. Eventually she found a rhythm and successfully landed an arm balance. As she decended, finally cracked a smile, the instructor said out loud, “Look at you! Great beginner’s luck!” The smile disappeared. Savasana followed, class ended, and as the woman picked up her rental mat and collected her belongings, I knew she would not return.
For those of you that teach, I’m sure this story hits a lot of nerves. Of course, I am not going to shame this teacher or call her out, but I definitely will not be going back. Even as someone who learned the basics, I cannot fathom re-entering a room where the energy focused more on how much the teacher knew, and less on how little the student understood.
For those of you starting out, I offer some sound advice. Do not read the biography and make a judgment based on the number of certificates this person holds. Also, weed out the “yoga speak”. Instead, try to understand this teachers’ values and their passion. Pick a class that has the word “beginner” or “hatha”, and then find a spot near the back of the room, but still in the Teacher’s sight. This allows them to see you, and allows you to see other practitioners around you. I would also tell you to avoid the big-time studios, but I know that in some cities that might be the only thing you find.
A yoga class is not an opportunity for the instructor to show off how much they know. A good yoga teacher will never call himself/herself a master, but rather a beginner constantly learning the ropes. As a first time yogi, you should be comfortable and safe, and you should be able to depend on the teacher for some guidance. At the end of the day, this is your practice, no one else’s, and you will only return to the mat if you felt supported during the first class.
If you need more real talk, I’m around. And, of course, don’t forget to breathe. Xx