My biggest challenge teaching yoga (it’s not what you might think).
You may or may not know that long before I was a yoga teacher or even a student, I was an actor.
Today I want to share a little anecdote about my acting life, which translated to my teaching life, which translated to me looking at this issue and asking what I could do about it.
Long, long, ago, in a faraway land (Maine), I was cast in a production of Always...Patsy Cline. It’s a sweet little show about the friendship between country star Patsy Cline, and a fictional raving fan, Louise, who actually narrates the story.
I was cast as Louise, who spends most of the show talking directly to the audience from her kitchen. She’s making breakfast, she’s doing dishes, she’s drinking a cup of coffee: the regular life stuff that we do every day. And all the while, she’s chatting away, to the audience or on “telephone calls” that she receives at home.
So as it happens, I am quite good at walking and chewing gum at the same time, so to speak. I can carry on a conversation while doing all sorts of everyday household activities. One of my favorite ways to have a chat with someone is for us to travel from room to room together while I straighten up the house.
But as an actor….it’s a totally different situation. I am SUPER awkward when handling props. It takes me tons of practice onstage to make a fake cup of coffee, something I do literally every single day in my regular life. It’s nerves, I suppose, and the fact that as soon as I’m consciously thinking about something that’s normally on autopilot, I start to overthink what’s happening.
Needless to say, it took me lots of extra time working with these props before they made any kind of sense to me, and especially before I could stop thinking about the extra stuff and start focusing on my lines, which are what carry the actual message of the play. Luckily, being a bit of a klutz fit perfectly with Louise’s character development. :)
Fast forward now to a little less long ago, in New York City. I’m in yoga teacher training, and I’m supposed to be observing a class. Upon arrival, I am told that I’ll actually be teaching the class instead (!) and that the teacher will stay in the room and take class, to give me feedback and also to be available (presumably in case I crash and burn).
This particular studio had a set sequence I was supposed to teach, which I knew, so no problem there. It was the other extra stuff that concerned me.
How to work the stereo system.
Where the light switches where, and remembering to dim them at the right time.
Closing the curtains to further block out the light toward the end of class.
And finally….the singing bowl.
The singing bowl was a beautiful, large, crystal bowl. Up until this point, I had never seen anybody ring the bowl: I was always lying in savasana, eyes closed, blissed out, when the teacher was making magic happen. I had literally no idea how the thing worked.
Okay, plus I’m about to teach for the first time ever, and although I’m fairly confident this is going to go okay, I still have a lump at the back of my throat. I walk to the front of the room, say “Welcome to class,” and we’re off to the races.
By all rights, this should be a dramatic story where all the technical elements go wrong. And it was certainly heading that direction...After placing the students in child’s pose to open class, I walk back and start fighting with the stereo. How does it turn on? What settings do I need to adjust? Will the cord fit with my phone case? Where’s the proper volume for this system?
The teacher who was in class with me was keeping closer tabs than I thought. After encouraging students to breathe in child’s pose for what was probably quite a long time, she lifted her head, walked over to the stereo, and indicated that she would take it from here. With a sigh of relief, I walked back to the front of class and picked up the thread of the sequence.
And it went like that for the rest of the class. She adjusted lights, closed curtains, and even rang the singing bowl at the end for me. With her help, I was able to teach my first class successfully. And you can bet that at the end of her feedback, I had a lot of questions about the elements of the studio and the way things worked.
When I start teaching at a new studio, some of the first questions I ask are about how the room works. In the grand scheme of things, music, heat, curtains, fans, and other elements aren’t the most important part of the practice. But it’s the little unexpected things that can trip a teacher up.
I started a running list of what questions yoga teachers should be asking to feel super-prepared when they start to teach somewhere new. And I’ve turned that list into a free resource to share with all my fellow teachers: The Yogi’s Guide to Teaching at a New Studio.
It starts with the simple stuff that I’ve talked about today, but goes well beyond that into policies, rate structures, and even questions about studio culture. If you’d like to feel confident and prepared when you walk in to teach your first class, this guide will help you get there.
You can download it right here.