For so long I wanted to be a yoga teacher. I looked up to my teachers – their lithe, strong bodies and their extensive knowledge of the practice – and I yearned to be just like them. I completed my yoga training and plunged into teaching with enthusiasm and purpose. Teaching yoga became my identity. I practiced most days, drank green juice, and read the Upanishads. I wore mala beads and quoted Ram Dass in my Facebook posts but, most importantly, I built lasting bonds with my faithful yoga students. Teaching yoga gave me a sense of fulfillment that I had never experienced before in my working life.
Time wore on and my neck grew weary from too many surya namaskars. I was working a lot but my pocketbook had little to show for it. I started to feel as though I was teaching beyond my knowledge. I would tell people to stretch their hamstrings without truly knowing what the hamstrings looked like or their purpose in the body. The winds of change were blowing and pushed me to enroll in massage school. It seemed like an ideal way to expand my anatomy knowledge while training for a career that earned better money. I stopped teaching yoga nearly six years ago and ever since, I’ve quietly hoped that I would find my way back to the mat again.
Very few of my favourite and formative yoga instructors are still teaching today. Life pulls us in new directions due to financial strain, meandering career paths, and growing families. And sometimes, we simply lose the desire to teach and share. Yoga teaching, when done right, is inspired. It flows out of a sincere desire to share the wisdom of movement and mindfulness. And when the spark is gone, I think it’s best to let it be and move on. Who knows when it may reignite?
This past year, after moving across the country and finding myself with some extra time in my schedule, I noticed that spark in me was aglow once again. I was eager to practice, teach, and connect with students. I dug out my tights and notebooks full of sequences, ready to jump right back into that old identity. But, as I quickly found out, the tights weren’t the only thing that were ill-fitting – the old identity didn’t fit quite right either.
I had changed. As people do. I was bemused by the fact that the names of postures, that once mellifluously left my lips, now felt awkward and foreign. I also wrestled to articulate the message I hoped to share with others. I needed to redefine what I was teaching, and why. In this struggle, I had to come to terms with the notion that I was not the ‘yogi’ I once was.
The six years that lapsed since my last teaching gig were decidedly good, but also incredibly challenging. I started a new career and built my own business. I experienced both soul-crushing losses and the absolute highs of the human experience. I had come out the other side with fewer expectations of life, more gratitude, and a realization of how quickly it all passes by. In other words, while I drank less green juice, I was living a more loving and mindful life than ever before.
I discovered that this was the richness of my offering. It may not look as good or as Instagram-ready, but the content is grounded and real. There is a part of me that wishes that I was still living my old, gluten-free, GOOP-ish lifestyle, but my world and identity has expanded beyond that now.
It’s certainly challenging to start anything again, and teaching yoga is no different. But amidst my ego’s onslaught of excuses and insecurities, there was a voice in me that asked, “Do I have something worthwhile to share with people?” And, the answer was a resounding, “yes.” I’m certain that there are a great many people, like me, who have stopped teaching but wish to teach again. So, if you’ve had a prolonged hiatus from your teaching career, here are a few ideas to get you back on the path:
Rekindle Your Love for Yoga and Your Personal Practice
Remember what made you fall in love with the practice. Maybe it’s because yoga made your body feel supple or your mind quiet. Or, you liked getting sweaty and listening to sweet playlists in a beautiful studio. If you can reconnect with your love of the practice, it will show through your enthusiasm, passion, and genuine desire to teach. If, over time, your personal practice has abated, start again by practicing even ten minutes a day. Take note of the classes and teachers that resonate with you. You can use this as inspiration for what to teach in your own classes.
Find a Job You Love
The studios where you worked before may put you back on the schedule right away. But if you’re like me, living in a new city or have lost touch with those old jobs, connect with as many studios as you can and start to attend classes. (Especially those taught by the owners). Prepare to be turned down for a job straight away. It’s more likely you’ll get added to a sub list or may have to volunteer your time for the community classes until you’re more established. And if the opportunities are sparse, create your own. Start up a small yoga or meditation group in your community, or a YouTube channel with your own personalized content.
Brush Up on Your Knowledge
Sometimes it feels like we need to be an anatomist, a postdoc philosopher, and Sanskrit scholar, all rolled into one. But most of us aren’t and what’s important is to stay within our scope. Our only job, truly, is to safely lead people through a yoga class. Take the time to revisit your teacher training manual to brush up on concepts you may have forgotten. Don’t worry about remembering everything – pick out what feels essential and go from there.
Bring Your Wisdom to the Mat
While your physical practice may have fewer sky-high handstands these days, the depth of your practice runs deeper. The time you spent away from yoga was likely rich with life lessons and experiences from which you can draw inspiration. Consider how your life off the mat can inform your teaching. If you left teaching to have children, maybe you can use that experience to teach mom & baby or kid’s classes. Or if you’ve been working a desk job, propose an evening or weekend class specifically for desk jockeys.
Above all else, try to enjoy the process of starting again. Trust that you’ve got all the skills you need to create classes that positively impact people, and that you have something of great value to offer. If there’s a part of you that’s been aching to teach again, then please find your way back to the mat – we’re excited to receive the wisdom you’ve acquired since you’ve been gone.