10 things to know before yoga teacher training

If you are thinking of embarking on a yoga teacher training course, here's some food for thought...

As yoga continues to increase in popularity throughout the world, naturally the amount of yoga teachers and yoga teacher training courses expands too. The latest statistics in a Yoga Alliance study for yoga in the USA show that the number of people practising yoga in 2016 has increased to 36 million, with 80 million saying they’re interested in practising yoga in the next 12 months. Americans spent over $16 billion on yoga clothing, equipment, classes and accessories last year. That’s a lot of yoga pants….

Having immersed myself in multiple yoga teacher trainings, as well as teaching on training courses myself, there are a few things worth taking into account before embarking on your first course.

These tips come both from my own experience and the experience of some of the teacher training students I have been working with recently:

1. Release expectations

You can’t really prepare fully for what lies ahead in a yoga teacher training course; despite the title of this piece, no one can tell you what will happen, and no one can tell you how you’ll feel. 

When choosing to embark on this journey, remember that all you can do is your best.

When choosing to embark on this journey, remember that all you can do is your best.

As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita; ‘Renounce the fruits of your actions’, which essentially means to do your best, give yourself to the moment at hand, and let go of what happens as a result of that. Enjoy the journey.

2. Set your intention...

Just as you might at the beginning of the class, set an intention; remember why you practise yoga and why you may want to teach it. This intention and solid foundation to start from is useful to come back to if things get a little tough or overwhelming at times. 

...but know that your reasons may change over time

You may begin your course with the intention of teaching afterwards, but halfway through find that actually, the idea of teaching regular yoga classes isn’t as appealing as it first seemed. And vice versa: you may be thinking that's there's no way you'd have the courage to stand up at the front of a class and teach – but this can change too! 

3. Do it for yourself

Most importantly, study and learn for yourself; whether you want to teach afterwards or not, you’ll really get the most out of your teacher training course by absorbing the teachings and imbibing them. It’s only after fully embodying something that we can share it from an authentic and pure place. 

 

4. Embrace the not-knowing

‘The recognition of confusion is the first form of understanding’  ~ TKV  Desikachar 

There may be words, postures, subjects or whole days that you don’t understand. Guess what? It’s okay! Think of this as exploration; be curious, make mistakes, become confused and ask for help. Knowing that you don’t know is absolutely perfect and it does wonders for the ego! If you do feel confused, ask your teachers, mentors or peers for advice and you’ll end up learning a whole lot more than if you pretend to know it all from the beginning.

5. Invest in tissues ...

...there’s going to be a lot of crying! Whether they're your tears or someone else's, crying is often a big part of yoga teacher training. Self-development is a huge aspect; it’s important to let go of your baggage before standing up in front of a group of people and telling them to let go of theirs….

It’s important to let go of your baggage before standing up in front of a group of people and telling them to let go of theirs.

Discomfort, tiredness, unexpected emotions and even a sense of being overwhelmed are totally normal when you choose to study something in-depth. As you may recognise though, discomfort is perfectly normal when we’re on a journey of growth and self-discovery. Here’s a little story I had told to me once that helps to illustrate the idea:

“Do you know how a lobster grows? When a lobster gets to a certain size its shell becomes too small … it begins to pinch, hurt and feel very uncomfortable.  So, the lobster hides beneath a rock, comes out of the shell, discards it, and stays protected under the rock whilst it grows a new one.  

Once the new shell has formed around its body the lobster emerges again.  As the lobster continues to grow and grow, the shell once again becomes tight, pinches and hurts.  So he retreats under the protection of a rock and begins the process all over again, shedding the old outgrown shell and growing a new one. 

 It's just as well there are no lobster doctors, otherwise as soon as lobsters felt uncomfortable the lobster doctors would prescribe some pills or medicine to stop them feeling anything and the lobster wouldn’t need to bother to grow at all”.

Crying after yoga, crying before yoga, crying during yoga, and crying through the lectures. It all happens, let it flow…

6. Look after yourself

Yoga teacher training courses are very much a mixture of physical practice and plenty of sitting. When you’re bringing your body from a sitting position to a yoga posture, be mindful and kind; injuries on a training course may occur if you think you ‘need’ to be able to do a certain posture in order to be a teacher.

Injuries on a training course may occur if you think you ‘need’ to be able to do a certain posture in order to be a teacher.

Listen to your body, remember you’re just at the beginning, and that the best teachers are the ones who have had to learn for themselves first and can pass on the wisdom and experience to others. If you do happen to sustain an injury during your time of practice, find the silver lining and use this to research and learn all about it so you’re then able to help any injured yoga students you may teach afterwards. 

7. Study well

There is a lot of criticism in the yoga world about the amount of people embarking on a career in teaching yoga without enough knowledge of what they’re actually doing. William J. Broad‘s book ‘The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards’ explores the injuries and mishaps that have happened in modern yoga classes, and many students ‘blame’ a teacher for their injury due to poor knowledge or lack of communication. 

When entering a yoga class, people volunteer to put themselves in a vulnerable position. When you’re directing people how to move their bodies and how to breathe, it’s essential that you know what you’re doing. As more and more practitioners become qualified to teach, make sure you’re one of the teachers helping and not harming!

As more and more practitioners become qualified to teach, make sure you’re one of the teachers helping and not harming!

8. It’s a bumpy ride

One moment you’ll feel on top of the world; you love yoga and can’t wait to learn more, and the next moment you may not be able to look at another yoga mat. Let this happen and take regular breaks. 

There will definitely be times when you feel like you couldn’t possibly fit any more information inside your head, and at times like these it’s a good idea to let things settle and spend some time doing something entirely unrelated to your yoga practice. Go for a long walk in nature, join some friends for a night out dancing, watch a trashy movie, cook a healthy meal. Have a conversation that isn’t about yoga (remember what that’s like?). You may notice that what you’ve learned from your yoga practice naturally makes its way into your everyday life and you’re actually able to embody the principles of the Yama and Niyamas!

9. Confronting different personalities

Spending long hours of intense learning and growth with the same group of people can be a valuable lesson in tolerance… When we’re dealing with the nature of other people, it’s very important to understand that everyone is different, and everyone comes with their own set of priorities and idiosyncrasies. Other people’s egos can be difficult to deal with, but remember that often the difficulties we have with each other arise from ourselves first.

Other people’s egos can be difficult to deal with, but remember that often the difficulties we have with each other arise from ourselves first. 

Whether it’s a fellow student or even a teacher you have difficulty with; explore why you may feel like that in the first place and choose to act rather than react in a situation. Learning a little more about Ayurveda and the different doshas can be a huge help in recognising that other people’s actions are largely down to their nature…

10. This is only the beginning…

Teaching yoga is not about simply showing up, throwing some shapes, drinking coconut water and then taking the rest of the day off to shop for some new yoga pants… sorry!

Remember your intention, teach from your heart, share what you know and continue to grow.

Remember your intention, teach from your heart, share what you know and continue to grow.

Study and self-reflection (Svadhyaya) are essential parts of teaching yoga; when you graduate from your first yoga teacher training course, you’ll likely realise that this is only the beginning of a lifelong journey. There’s no limit to where it could take you, and it’s all a practice…

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