What it’s like to be a trainee yoga teacher
From time to time, we’ve all sat in a yoga class and had one of two thoughts. ‘I’d love to do this for a living’ or ‘I could do this for a living’. But what does training to be a yoga instructor really entail?
We spoke to a trainee yoga teacher* to get the low down on what it’s like to be a yoga teacher and how to get started.
What made you want to be a yoga teacher?
A myriad of reasons, but my main motivations were bringing joy to people through yoga, doing something I love, and having a career that’s flexible. Fortunately, yoga is a career that you can pursue no matter where in the world you are and living this dream has increasingly become a reality with the growing popularity of online classes and yoga tutorials. There’s no real substitute for the real thing, but it’s amazing how accessible yoga has become, and this has really inspired me. It’s nice to balance out my freelance work too, which can be done from anywhere, but is very much-desk based. We must look after our bodies and sitting down all day in front of a screen isn’t for me.
What attributes does a yoga teach need to have? What about fitness?
Yoga’s main goal is unity, whether that’s within us and our bodies, or with the world and those around us. I’m a people person and like to bring a room together, but I’m not a huge extrovert – for me it’s about using gentle yet deliberate and demonstrative communication to create a sense of community. This is typically achieved by combining breath with movement, and poses which are done in unison as a group. To do this requires commitment, concentration, and constant learning. Attention to detail and multi-tasking come in too handy, particularly when it comes to keeping breathwork front of mind while trying to instruct a class. My teacher always reminds us “if you are not breathing, that means you’ve gone too far in your asana”.
Now for the big one: being fit is of course a big part of yoga teacher training – you often have to hold a pose and talk at the same time and need to get to a level where you can teach harder poses to others (crow pose is a good example). The fitness required is different to that of say, a spin instructor; however, being in good condition and practicing continually is very important. However, you don’t have to be super flexible or do masterful handstands in order to become a teacher. You just teach what you know and if you want to progress, this can be done through gradual adoption and practice of advanced poses. Being able to guide students through the yoga flow safely and delivering a practice that is diverse and well-thought-through is more important than physical fitness.
Finally, knowing why you’re there and the foundations of yoga, including the history and the names of the different movements or mediations, is key. It’s great for the brain as it’s essentially learning a new language – being patient with new terminology and ways of identifying moves is important. I am really enjoying going back to school again!
How much time does it take? Can you do it around a busy schedule?
You can choose whether you want to do an intensive course or modules over a longer period. I chose the latter – it will take me half a year to complete but that means I am able to continue my day job. It’s no mean feat, although very manageable with the right attitude. I find that being organised is crucial as traditional book or material-based study must be combined with practical learning and ongoing physical practice. Yoga is about being free, not clinging to the material world and achieving mental purity, all of which are only possible through discipline and dedication, so it’s key to bring that to training and learning to be an instructor. In truth it’s not dissimilar to working out how to play a musical instrument or a technical skill.
What type of yoga do you prefer to teach?
I love to mix it up with both yin yoga and power yoga; these types of yoga are very different but if done together, release full body tension, build up strength and resilience, and bring us closer to the fundamentals of the philosophy of yoga.
What’s your best yoga tip?
Nail a downward facing dog. This move is the most complete of yoga poses for so many reasons. Promoting flexibility and stretching muscles, while focusing on the core and lengthening the body in a low impact way, is such a tonic. Downward facing dog is often incorporated into many other types of exercise to reduce injury and stiffness and reset after tough moves too.
My tips for doing a downward facing are having a good foundation, spreading and pushing the fingers into the mat, and lifting and pushing the hips back. Prioritise a straight back over straight legs too – it’s ok to bend knees quite generously if that helps. An active down dog is so much better than a passive one that’s seen as just a transitional pose between moves, as part of a vinyasa – it has a lot of benefits so make sure you do it justice.
And finally, what’s your advice for getting the most out of yoga?
Don’t put it off! Even if it’s just five minutes a day of breathwork or 20 minutes of sun salutations a few times a week, the effects will be noticeable. They say you never regret exercise – but you will really regret not doing yoga!
*Name changed to preserve the anonymity of our yoga trainee and friend of M Life.