So You Just Got Your Yoga Teaching Certificate…NOW What Do You Do?

Editor’s Note:  This is a guest post from Mimm Patterson of Practically Twisted blog.  

When you boiled it all down, the question my friend wanted an answer to was this:

“What do I do now?”

Deepa and I began Avalon Art and Yoga Center’steacher training course in September 2011.  Six months and almost $3,000 dollars later we had a beautiful piece of paper to show the world that we were yoga teachers.

Hold up.  Actually, what we had was a piece of paper that said we’d completed the program.  The Avalon Teacher Training program is an intense and comprehensive six months of study.  It was worth my time and my money.  But when it was over, did the world have twenty-eight more yoga teachers?  I’m not sure.

It’s one thing to learn the techniques of teaching and another to know how to touch a student with words that describe the impact of a yoga practice or to provide support that make her feel safe.  Knowing how to instill confidence, knowing how to adjust a posture, knowing how to set the tone in the studio – it takes time and experience to develop those skills.  It takes an instinct that I’m not certain can be taught.  It’s a bit like learning that red and blue make purple.  Knowing how the color wheel works does not make you an artist.  And completing a teacher-training program does not make you a teacher.

The reality is I taught for many years before becoming a certified teacher. Instead of certification, I studied informally.  I read books and attended classes.  I asked questions.  I practiced.  I was a student for ten years before I began teaching.  I’m not suggesting the path to teaching I chose is better or even desirable.  There were holes in my “home study” yoga education I had a craving to fill.   What I’m trying to point out is that there are different paths, and maybe this push to collect certificates and to study with the flashiest Pop Star Yoga Idol (and after this past year we certainly know how quickly and how far yoga idols can fall) is blinding us to the truth that being a compassionate, effective and capable teacher takes more than a file cabinet of certificates.

So how important is that piece of paper?  I’m happy that after eighteen years I have certificates not only from Avalon but also from Paul Grilley’s Yin Teacher Training.  I could have continued to be a fine teacher without them, but they represent opportunity. They open doors.  If you choose – and for what it’s worth – your new certificate allows you to register with Yoga Alliance (which I’ve done).

But I’m through with formal training for the time being.  I’m happy to return to reading, talking with fellow teachers, attending classes in my neighborhood.  I’m happy to focus on my students and my teaching.

So how did I answer Deepa as she tried to decide what to do next?

I told her to take a step back.  I told her to find her teaching voice.

Your yoga voice – how you speak to students, the vocabulary you use to describe asana or pranyama or mudras or bandhas – it can’t be taught.  You have to find it and the only way to find it is to teach.

When you find your authentic voice as a teacher, that’s when you’ll begin to teach your truth.  And when you are teaching your truth you’ll know that the path you chose – the path that brought you here – it was the right one.

ps….Some people, by the way, are born to teach.  They’re naturals.  Deepa is one of them.  From mid-July she’ll be teaching at Downtown Yoga Shala in San Jose, California mornings and Friday evenings.  

As for me, I continue to teach my truth at California Yoga CenterAvenidas in Palo Alto and Prajna Yoga and Healing Arts in Belmont, California.  I also teach for Feinberg Medical Group and privately.

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