Survival Guide for New Yoga/Pilates Teachers

Three years ago I decided that I was going to try to make a living from teaching yoga and pilates. 

Today I am almost at the stage that that living is being made.

It has been a bit of a slog and not entirely an easy process. Accordingly when Yogi Nomads‘ writer/coach and yoga teacher Melissa Mak asked on Facebook: “Have you got any tips for new yoga teachers on how to survive the first year of teaching?” I was quick to reply.

You can see what I said right to Melissa here on page 33 of the July 2014 edition of Namaskar Magazine (Screen grab of the article is below)

Top Three Tips for Surviving Your First Year as a Yoga Teacher - by Melissa Mak. Namaskar July 2014

Top Three Tips for Surviving Your First Year as a Yoga Teacher – by Melissa Mak. Namaskar July 2014

Reading this article I realised that there are a bunch of things that I really wish that I had known before I started teacher training.  For example, putting some money aside to cushion me for a long period when I didn’t get paid would have been a really good idea.  I went into the whole thing with a lot of optimism and not a lot of financial sense it seems looking back.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the things that I recommend doing to survive the financial leap of faith involved in becoming an (almost) full time yoga/Pilates teacher. I hope that it helps some of you.

1.   Make time for your own practice

Go to as many classes as you can.  Very often in the early I felt as if I had nothing to give my students as a teacher. I was unsure of how effective my teaching was, I was nervous and uncomfortable and felt like a fraud.  Having a chance to share the energy spread by other teachers in their classes made me feel as if I had something to pass on.  I was very lucky to be a student at Preshana Yoga in Sydney for over a year. While I studied there I had the opportunity to take classes with truly inspiring yoga teachers – creative, generous, revolutionary about alignment and philosophy and 100% authentic.

I would like to take a moment to thank them all for their insights and the genuine breakthroughs that I experienced practicing with them: Vicki Smart, Vanessa Rodriguez, Holly Coles, Christine Lee, Ananda Trettin, Laurence Jay and visiting teacher/trainers Sadie Nardini, Darren Rhodes and Gopala Amir Yaffe.  My Pilates practice in the first year of teaching consisted almost entirely of taking online classes, tutorials and workshops through Pilates Anytime, there is a vast database of talent over there. Recently I have been blessed to continue studying with Melanie Payne as one of her hand picked team of teachers at Body Mind Life.  

I remember Darren Rhodes telling us in a workshop that students are drawn to the energy of a teacher, accordingly we have to ensure that we nurture our own energy.  To do this I practice yoga and the Pilates Method every day.  If I don’t I get grumpy and depleted very quickly.

2.  Be prepared to be a substitute teacher at short notice as often and as willingly as possible

In the early days I had clear ideas about when I would prefer to teach – during the day mainly when my kids are at school. Every other new teacher would also like to work during the day but the during the day slots are very seldom the class slots that need a teacher. Be prepared to work at 6 am in the morning and then to teach again at 7.45 pm at night.  If another teacher gets sick and you are free to cover that class, COVER IT. It may mess with your evening plans or your long lie but if you help a teacher or a studio owner out willingly and at the last minute you will make an excellent impression.

When you do substitute try to find out as much about the class that you are going to teach as possible. Who is in the class? What kind of class are they expecting?  Get there early and be super friendly and welcoming to the students who will usually be a bit put out that their favourite teacher is not there.  Reassure them that you will work with them at their pace and give them whatever they need so that they enjoy their class. Don’t take any eye rolling personally – they aren’t used to your cues or teaching styles and most people hate change. 

 3.  Find out the invoicing dates for each studio you work for and diarise those dates

Your cash flow will really suffer if you don’t stay on top of invoicing.

4.  Get to bed early, eat well and often

There is no way to adequately cover up a hangover or 6 hours sleep when you have a full class at 7 am. Get at least 8 hours sleep a night or you will find yourself blacking out in the middle of a class as I did recently. If you don’t eat sensibly you will find that you just crash and burn half way through a morning or evening teaching. 

5.  Show no fear

It is entirely likely that the first few classes that you teach will be really quite crap. If you are lucky you will have lovely students who will give you the benefit of the doubt. If you are not lucky you will have someone who pipes up loudly: “I don’t know what you want me to do!” or “You talk too much!” or worse still walk out on you.  It can hurt but there is usually a kernel of wisdom inside every bit of seemingly harsh criticism. I go into classes expecting people to be critical of me and trying to put myself in their shoes to figure out what would annoy me about my teaching.

The worst thing that you can do  though as a teacher is to be unsure of yourself. Students will pick up on it right away and they will simply not trust you to teach them. Teach what you feel comfortable with teaching, keep it simple, light and fresh.  A big smile and the ability to laugh at yourself if you stuff things up (as I do at least once every class) is a big advantage.  

Once I started to see teaching as a conduit to passing on what I had learned it made life a lot easier for me. Standing up in front of a class was less about my ego (will they like me?) and more about the students’ needs (will they be safe/will they have fun/will they sleep well tonight?). 

Actively ask for feedback after class and be prepared to consider any sensible practical suggestions that students make. This will in turn lead to you finding that some students want you to teach more regularly. Some students of course will not want to see you back and that is fine too. “To each their niche” as my teacher Vicki Smart says, in other words the students who like the way you teach will find you. 

6. Have more than one job

Being a yoga/Pilates teacher is a bit like being a jobbing actor. Some weeks you will have heaps of work and no financial worries and then Christmas/New Year comes along and you have no paying work for 3-4 weeks.  You need to have another job/income stream in addition to your teaching to guarantee that you can pay your bills. 

I shall probably add to this list through time. Meantime, if you are a new teacher (or even a really experienced teacher) please leave a note of your personal survival tips below!

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