Memoirs of a TS Teacher Training Grad

miri“I’m a yoga teacher.” After practicing yoga for a few years, a dream to become a yoga teacher started dancing in my head and I longed to be able to say that phrase out loud.

My love affair with yoga began in the year 2000. Intrigued by some classes at the gym, I signed up for a beginner Iyengar series and from there tried Vinyasa. A friend took me to a class at Tranquil Space and when I walked in, it felt like home.

Over time, one class a week increased to four or five per week and I started listening more closely to the announcements about teacher training. In 2004, I took level one and got a taste of what this could mean for me. In 2005, I took the plunge and signed up for Level Two – the 200 hour program. I went into it with the intention of teaching even though the idea scared me so much! I wasn’t sure if my practice was advanced enough to teach. I also felt like the teachers I was learning from were more confident than I was and had a wealth of knowledge. How could I ever be like them?

The 200 hour program changed my life in a few ways. First, I made some great friends that I still have today. I also gained the confidence to do something I never thought I could do. Lastly, I realized how much joy it gives me to teach people how to do yoga.

Learning the poses, knowing the Sanskrit names, understanding anatomy and yoga philosophy and more are all key teachings that are a must for graduation. However, in my experience, a few of the things I learned stand out as the lessons I needed to go from being a graduate of a 200 hour program and becoming a true teacher. These include:

  • We all have to take our “seat as a teacher” to find our authentic teaching style. Yes, everyone emulates their favorite teachers in some ways, but there is a difference in pretending to be someone else versus creating your own style that brings in things you’ve learned from others.
  • We are guides not gurus. Each student is their own true teacher.
  • Teaching yoga is not practicing in front of the room. Yogis come for their practice, not yours. Walking around the room while teaching helps you see if your cues are working well, how the pace is working and what assists could help your students.
  • Just because you can’t do an advance version of a pose, doesn’t mean you can’t teach it. On the other hand, just because you CAN do an advanced pose, doesn’t mean you need to show off, especially in a beginner class.
  • Assisting each student at least once during the class is a must; twice is even better.
  • Bringing a beginner’s mind to every pose brings humility and a fresh perspective.
  • Until you start teaching, everything is just conceptual.

After completing the program, I offered a free class at my workplace for a few months to build my confidence. Then, I started teaching at a gym once a week. The experience was amazing! I had students that ranged from total beginners to advanced practitioners which forced me to hone my ability to teach modifications and variations at the same time. It also allowed me to get better at the multi-tasking required of a teacher – using music, teaching while walking around the room and demonstrating when needed. My heart warmed when I saw familiar faces walking into the room each week. I had regulars that were coming to learn yoga from me! This is where I started to shape my “seat as a teacher.”

In 2008, when my husband and I made a decision to move to Madison, WI, I took the leap and applied to teach at a studio. I found one that felt right for me, Bliss Flow Yoga, and started teaching four classes right after we moved. Talk about baptism by fire! This is when I really fine tuned my teaching style. I had regulars and gained great feedback from them that helped me shape my teaching style. Over that year, I also taught prenatal yoga which was really fun because I was pregnant at the time.

One thing that became a part of my teaching style was teaching poses that I couldn’t do myself. I know this can be controversial and some teachers wouldn’t think of it. We all need to do what feels authentic. For me, it felt like a disservice to my students to limit them to only the poses I really do well. I taught them by admitting the pose was something I was working on and I would show the version I could do and language the rest. When available, I would refer to an advanced student as a model. Many of my students told me that this part of my style helped them feel less awkward when trying a new pose. They also said it helped them to see that teachers are learning just like everyone else.

To keep my yoga teaching skills sharp, I’ve attended some yoga journal conferences and some intensive workshops as well. Some teachers I’ve taken classes with include Shiva Rea, Ana Forrest, David Swenson, Rodney Yee, Sadie Nardini, Simon Park, Cyndi Lee and Seane Corn.

I’m a communications professional by day, a wife and mom of two boys and a black Labrador. For a while, I tried to make teaching yoga part of that equation but made the decision to take a break about two years ago. As much as I love teaching, I felt like my students deserved more than I could give them right now. When I teach, I like to bring a lot of energy to my classes and my lifestyle makes that difficult. So, I use my yoga education to deepen my practice and bring that mindfulness off the mat and into my family and work.

When my kids get a bit older, I do hope to actively teach again. However, no matter if I’m teaching or not, I’ll always be a yoga teacher and feel proud to be part of the Tranquil Space program graduate family!

~ this guest blog is from Miri McDonald, level 1 and 2 TT graduate 

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