Recent graduate Harriet Jones talks about her journey from trainee to yogahaven teacher with a few surprises along the way
If there is one thing I have learned since writing my previous blog post, it’s that life throws you some interesting curveballs, and if you’re lucky enough to have yoga in your life, it’s often the thing that makes you see the sense of them. It gently forces you to soften, allows you to see through the potential fear in order to reach the joy. It teaches you not to hold your breath through change, but to release, breathe, and to let go – to trust in yourself and the universe.
More on that later, but for now, back to February and March of this year and after the intensive, emotional, colourful cocoon of Morocco (see my first post) I found myself back in London, living my normal life, working my normal job in magazines, commuting on my normal train.
It can feel like quite a shock arriving back to reality after your two weeks abroad, so do be prepared for that. This is the first part of the course (apart from the pre-reading/studying) where you are suddenly alone, with a whirlpool of new information and teaching know-how at your fingertips and, suddenly, nowhere to channel it all.
Whilst we were away, one of our pieces of homework was to enlist a group of willing friends, family or colleagues to teach at least once a week (ideally twice a week) to practice on. I can’t stress enough, just how important this is – to start teaching immediately before you lose all of that magic momentum you’ve gained abroad. And to those of you who maybe live out in a tiny remote village nowhere near friends, or you work alone or your family isn’t around, then don’t panic – however bizarre it might sound, teaching an empty room is almost as good!
I was lucky enough to have a group of about six wonderful girls from work who happily signed up for weekly classes with me. To say that I was nervous to begin with is an understatement… I could feel my voice shaking slightly and I felt so self-conscious, not to mention the pressure of trying to remember the sequence
BONUS TIP: Don’t deviate from the set sequence in your first two months, it’s so easy otherwise to forget it!
But after about the third class, I felt completely different. I had confidence in myself – in my knowledge and my ability, I truly felt like a teacher. I really felt that I found my own voice and style. I designed a playlist for the sequence that felt like me, I started to add in slightly different vocab, I injected a lot of the philosophical side of the practice which is very important to me.
Then something magical happened. One of my colleagues began crying after class because it had stirred up so many emotions for her. This reminded me of how powerful this practice is and what it can do for people. How incredible, that it was my class, my teaching, that had unlocked those emotions for her. We sat and talked for a while and I felt I could help, just a little. This, I feel, is the difference between something like being a spinning instructor. Yoga is a wonderful form of physical release, but really, it’s about working on your inner self, and to be a teacher, to guide somebody on that extremely personal journey is incredibly humbling; a real privilege and an honour.
As well as teaching this one ‘real’ class a week, I also taught my sofa (lucky sofa) at home twice a week. This is something I still do to this day, it helps me learn new sequences and get used to speaking out loud, to flow through words as smoothly as you would a vinyasa. I couldn’t recommend it enough, on top of teaching real people that is.
Whilst I think teaching and learning the sequence is top of the agenda for these two months before your practical exam, next on the priority list is studying – both yoga history/philosophy and anatomy.
When it comes to anatomy, the weekend module that you undertake in London gives you a great basis in the subject, but don’t expect to become an expert in this field straight away.
This part of the course is designed to give a helpful jumping off point into the complicated biological, scientific world of anatomy– it will give you a solid base in which to go off and start your own studying, or perhaps inspire you to do a separate yoga for anatomy course, but to begin with, it’s a perfect entry-level form of learning that you can apply to students who might have common injuries.
My other piece of advice? When it comes to the yoga theory exam, don’t get hooked on what you think might come up in the exam! It’s such an easy trap to fall into, obsessing over what ‘needs’ learning for the ‘test’… personally, I found I was so interested and passionate about the subject matter that I studied everything widely because I wanted to.
Remember why you are here, why you came to the teaching in the first place, it’s because you really care, you want to learn and you’re passionate – this isn’t G.C.S.E maths (thank god), let go of the ‘nerves’ and just let yourself learn, if you do that, the test will be an absolute breeze, trust me.
And after the exam weekend? After the elation and the hugs and the relief and the excitement, it can feel a little like you don’t know what to do with your new-found qualification and knowledge. But that’s ok… maybe you don’t want to teach anyway and this was just a deeper journey into yoga for you, or maybe your aim is to change your career completely and make teaching your full-time job, wherever you’re at – it’s up to you to make it happen, and you will, because you have got this far, you have invested so much of yourself and your soul already.
The one thing that struck me very quickly though? Was that actually, even though the course had just ended, that really, it was only the very beginning. And much like my comments on the anatomy side of things, the whole course is clearly designed to give you a thorough and complete base level of expertise and understanding – a diving board, a step-up, a helping, guiding hand into the world of being a yoga teacher.
Being a teacher is about continuous self-study (Swadyaya anyone?!), continuously bettering yourself, your style, your unique ‘voice’, your knowledge, perhaps widening your experience to other forms of yoga and being hungry for the next bit of learning.
Even though you are now considered a teacher, you are in fact always a student – and that’s what struck me most about finishing the course. It was an ending, but also an exhilarating beginning. What a special gift.
Fast forward a month or so and I was very lucky to be offered a Hot Yoga Basics class at Yogahaven Richmond. I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. Not so much of the teaching aspect, but the mammoth task of learning the sequence in time to start. One of the wonderful things about the yoga community though is that everyone wants to help. It was one week before my first class and nerves were really setting in. Thankfully I had an offer of help from the wonderful Natalie Weber that I gratefully accepted – and what a help it was. As she said to me ‘if you can teach your teacher, you can teach anyone’ and she’s right, however nerve-wracking it is – it’s probably the most helpful and confidence-giving thing you can do for yourself. So, don’t refuse offers of help, people really mean it and they just want to see you do well.
The other thing I had to check myself on? It is so easy to get wrapped up in learning sequences and calming your nerves (and running through the studio instructions for the heat constantly in your head) that in the end, you get so involved in yourself that it’s very easy to lose sight of why you are really here, for the people who come to be guided by you – I had to remind myself that I was here for the students. And, wow, do you get such joy from them.
My first class, I was totally blown away by how much I loved hearing from and talking to students before and after. From the three (yes THREE!) people who came to the class who had never attempted yoga before let alone a hot class; to the wonderful woman who confessed to me that she was struggling with PTSD and said that even though it was only her third week practicing, she could feel it was already helping her hugely; to the athlete who told me all about his sports injury and how yoga had changed his life since; to the awesome husband-and-wife team who practice nearly every day together. I was so thrilled to meet these people from such different backgrounds and walks of life. It’s something you can easily forget about in the lead up to your first class at a studio, but you’ll quickly realise and remember that it’s your main drive, your main reason for wanting to be a teacher in the first place.
Oh, and you know that curveball I mentioned? Well, it turns out that after quite a few years of struggling with the idea of starting a family (due to many complicated emotional reasons) the decision was taken totally out of my/our hands when my husband and I found out that I was pregnant. A total surprise, completely out-of-the-blue, and despite my long-held fears and worries – I am nothing but over-the-moon happy.
I’m convinced that my yoga journey has played a huge part in bringing me to this point of happiness, of contentment.
And although it now means I have to take an enforced break from teaching at Yogahaven (I will miss you 6:45 am Friday class) it’s all part of learning to let go, and to trust and to be at peace with change in its many forms – if that doesn’t show the magic and the power of yoga I don’t know what does.
Namaste, all. See you on the mat after this next exciting, scary, healing, much-needed chapter.
I’ll be calmly breathing through every moment of it.