Do you want to be a better teacher? (Let’s be honest, who doesn’t?)
The answer is simple: Be a better student.
“Practice and all is coming.” (Pattabhi Jois)
Pattabhi Jois was onto something… In essence, he’s referring to the greater experience of yoga that comes with a disciplined practice. If you don’t make time to get on your mat, it’s likely you’ll be further disconnected to what the practice is truly all about.
And without that connection, are you doing your students a disservice? The deeper your understanding of the practice, the more you can offer (authentically) to others.
Although, finding time to practice can be a real challenge, especially if teaching yoga is your full-time job.
But have you ever gotten on your mat and regretted it afterwards?
Let’s dive into the why’s and how’s of the importance of your personal practice as a yoga teacher. First and foremost for you, but also to strengthen your voice as a teacher.
Take a moment to consider something you’re really good at doing.
Now think about how you got there…. First, you started out not knowing how to do it. Next, you practiced and practiced until you knew how to do it.
It’s common knowledge that the more we practice something, the better we get.
Think back to your first yoga class (as both a student and a teacher!). What didn’t come naturally then, probably feels more comfortable now. Right?
We can all agree on this – the more classes you teach as a yoga instructor, the more comfortable you’ll feel guiding others through their practice.
But, if all you’re doing is spending time teaching others, you’re missing out on a very important element of teaching that could level up your game entirely. What is that element?
Being a student.
As teachers of anything, we are always a student first. With this mentality, comes humility and surrender. Your practice becomes your teacher.
Every time you step onto your mat as a student, even if it’s to practice something familiar in your body, you learn something new. With this learning comes a deeper understanding of yourself and the intricacies of the practice. With this understanding, comes a greater gift to share with your students.
Knowing this, why do we as teachers let our practice suffer so easily?
It can be difficult to maintain a personal practice when we spend the majority of our time at the studio teaching. Our time is precious and so often we think we are “getting our practice in” when teaching others.
This is not the case. Nor is it an excuse.
As teachers, we need to prioritize our practice and our well-being, before we begin to think of teaching others. Practice what you preach!
Wise words from Yogarupa Rod Stryker:
“Stay ahead of the game of seeking. We cannot serve others if we do not fill our own ‘seeking cup’ on a daily basis. We can’t. The line is too thin. The ice is too thin. If even a little bit of time goes by, and we ignore it…we fall through the ice.
Personal practice. Personal practice. Personal practice.
A yogi who does not do sadhana (practice) is an actor; a parrot…a bird who’s memorized some words. Your well that you draw on has to be filled…and not personal practice to the point of only giving you just enough to get by…that’s not filling your cup. It’s not about maintenance. It’s about fulfilling your seeking. That should be your primary focus.”
If you’re not entirely convinced, here are 4 more reasons why it’s a good idea to maintain your personal practice.
1) Your practice informs your teaching.
Have you ever had the experience where the more time you have on your mat to practice, the better you feel as an instructor?
There is so much truth to that. It’s what this entire article is about!
As teachers, we learn and gather information from many sources that influence the way we teach. It could be from the books we read, the conversations we have, meditations we do, etc.
But the most impactful source of information comes from that of our very own practice. The one where we get to be the student again, the newbie, the one who remains curious. Studying those processes becomes the content of our teaching.
2) You’ll gain a better understanding of your students.
We’re all human and are made up of the same stuff. Our bodies, yet wildly different, are more similar than we think.
A regular personal practice will help you relate to your students and their nuances on the mat.
The more you understand your own body and the way it feels on the mat, the more you’ll be able to help your students. This deeper knowledge encourages further connection in many ways; connection to yourself, connection to your students, and the connection your students will have within their own bodies.
Afterall, isn’t that what yoga is really all about?
3) Helps you create more intuitive sequences.
Making your practice a priority allows you to create more intelligently sequenced classes for your students.
You’ll learn what feels good physically and what intuitively feels good in your body. You can literally “go with the flow” as you’re developing sequence ideas on your mat to introduce to your students. Chances are what feels good in your body, will feel good in theirs.
Time alone on your mat is a great time to “test-drive” sequence ideas you have for your students.
Let’s not forget about safety! Understanding what parts of your body may need minor modifications helps your students remain safe while under your guidance. You’ll understand better what you’re teaching and the implications it could induce in your students. This will help you offer up safe modifications of each pose too.
4) Creates more understanding of Self.
As you learned in YTT, yoga is union. Maintaining a consistent practice will encourage more unification of your body, mind and soul. The more you’re able to access that unity in yourself, the easier it’ll be to transmit that during class – creating space for others to do the same.
We practice to learn and understand our own bodies. We’re not simply practicing to learn from another teacher and teaching what they say in our own words. When we can tune into ourselves fully by tuning into our own awareness, we’ll able to better serve others.
But HOW, with all the demands of our time, do we keep up with a personal practice? I’ve laid out some tips for you below.
6 practical tips to maintain your personal yoga practice
I know it’s tough… but here are some tips to maintain your personal practice…
#1 Be okay with a shorter practice
With the demands of our schedules as yoga teachers, finding time can be difficult. But don’t let time be the limitation! If you absolutely can’t make at least an hour work, *be okay* with a shorter practice. Even 10 minutes on your mat counts for something.
#2 Establish a routine (and stick to it)
It’s said that it takes 8 weeks of doing something repeatedly, to create a habit. Without a routine around your personal practice, you may never do it. Find what works in your schedule, and stick to it.
#3 Create boundaries (learn to say no)
Your new routine won’t mean anything without boundaries around that sacred time to practice. Let there be little to no exceptions when it comes to scheduling over that time.
#4 Find a teacher who really resonates with you
If you’re opting to take your personal practice to the studio, find a teacher who resonates with you. This will help you look forward to the class week after week, and motivate you to attend more often.
#5 Be disciplined
Do it even when you don’t feel like doing it. You know that saying that “the yoga poses that you hate the most you probably need the most”? Same goes for your practice. The days you don’t feel like doing it, are probably the days you need it the most.
Reminds me of this zen proverb: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” 🙂
#6 Practice other elements of yoga – not just “vinyasa flow”
It can be really easy to fall into what comes easiest or what is most comfortable for you. Your personal practice doesn’t have to look and feel the same day after day. Instead of consistently focusing on the asana, practice the other elements by reading, meditating, or practicing pranayama.
What can you commit to today, to help motivate yourself to establish a consistent personal practice?
Let me know in the comments below!