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Arbitrary lists about what yoga teachers “should” and “shouldn’t” do make me want to yank out all my hair. This well-meaning advice usually has the opposite desired effect–it makes you feel like a failure if you don’t follow it or if you mess up when teaching. After 20 years, I’ve found there’s really only 5 ways to fail as a yoga teacher.

I’ll get to those in a moment.

First, no one likes messing up, but mistakes are inevitable when you teach yoga (or do anything). So cut yourself some slack. You’re only human. Second, if there’s more than one way to practice yoga, I can promise you, there’s more than one way to teach it too.

I’ve attended my fair share of workshops. I’ve taught a lot of classes, and trained a lot of teachers. And there are so many ways a teacher can connect with their clients and create a positive experience.

I’ve seen it done with and without:

  • Using Sanskrit
  • Chanting OM
  • A special ending for the class
  • Sun salutations
  • Assisting
  • Music (whether it’s rock, indie, flutes or rap)
  • Using mirrors

Now it’s true, as a teacher, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. It’s nearly impossible to teach a class that everyone likes every single time. (But it doesn’t stop us from striving for it.)

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#1 Using the time you teach to get your own practice

If someone asks you how many times you practiced this week and you count the two times you taught, then you’re using your teaching time as practice too.

The reality is your personal practice can only be as good as you’re present for it, and if you’re trying to teach AND practice, you’re not really doing either one. You and your client are both losing out, and you’re doing your clients a disservice by not being present with them.

If you need to “practice” while teaching, then perhaps you need to carve some time to do a personal practice at home, or recommit to attending classes when you’re not teaching.

It’s important for teachers to refill their cups because they give so much. But do it some other time than when you’re teaching.

#2 Trying to “impress” your clients

As in showing off. As in popping up into a handstand (or some other “impressive” pose) when you’re teaching a gentle class, or introducing yourself, or generally doing a handstand anytime you’re not actually teaching a handstand.

This goes for trying to impress other teachers too. There’s usually little to no need to do the splits or lift into a headstand AFTER you’ve taken an hour long class.

If you find yourself doing this, stop and ask, what is the purpose? Why do I feel the need to do/show this pose at this particular moment in time? If you’re in the middle of an inversion workshop and need to demonstrate said inversion, you’re probably doing/showing it for reasons outside of your ego. Otherwise, be there for your clients, not your ego.

#3 Using your clients

Think Bikram. Yeah, I went there. He’s a douche. No matter how great a yoga teacher he may be (or have been) he’s a douche because he used his students, particularly the female ones.

Your clients are there to fill in the missing pieces of their lives, not yours. You’re not on a pedestal above your clients because you still have your own shit to work through. But you’re doing it on your own time, outside of teaching your classes. You’re not teaching classes because you desire the accolades and adoration.

#4 Breaking your clients’ trust

Vulnerability is a part of practicing yoga, and when someone shares that raw part with you, as a teacher it’s your responsibility to respect it. There is nothing worse than learning that something you told your yoga teacher in confidence got blabbed to other teachers, or worse, other students.

As a yoga educator, I use stories to highlight teachable moments. However when I tell a story, I never use names, and I may change one or two facts. If I have a teachable story but someone in training may know the person in the story, I skip over it all together.

Don’t cheapen that reach out by gossiping it to the next person you see because once that bond of trust is broken, it’s rare to regain it.

#5 Skipping savasana

I can usually overlook the four previous teaching mishaps (unless all four were committed in the same class by the same teacher). BUT if I wander into a class and there’s no final relaxation, I can promise you, no matter how great the other fifty-five minutes might have been, the class sucked because I was jipped out of my savasana.

And I’m not the only person who feels that way. So don’t do it.

Don’t be the teacher who feels five more minutes of core work is more important than the last five minutes spent in relaxation. Same goes if you find yourself running short on time. Cut poses, never savasana.

If you’ve been guilty of any of these 5 ways to fail as a yoga teacher, please stop. Be fully present for your participants and give them the best of you that you can.

Looking for more ways to create unforgettable yoga classes?

How to Sequence a Yoga Class

10 Qualities of a Yoga Teacher

How (and Why) to Teach Savasana

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