5 Questions for the New (Or Relaunching) Yoga Teacher

By Joseph Armstrong

Being a yoga teacher is more than just a career move for most of us. We’ve come to practice as a way of easing our own suffering and having found some success in that, we begin to want to share the healing with others. The journey to teacherhood is complex. Yoga teachers must develop a personal approach to method, style and outreach through both continuing education and trial and error in the real world. Many of us can feel an internal friction between a desire not to commodify this ancient practice and also wanting to pay our rent doing something we love. Even if that’s not so much an issue, getting jobs and income enough to support yourself often takes time.

Here are a few points of interest which you might use to investigate the methods and meaning in your own approach to teaching.

1. Is your heart in it?

No instruction booklet is issued to each yoga teacher, but if it were it might say ‘some assembly required’ and ‘batteries not included’. Becoming a good teacher is a process and it will take lots of time and energy to develop the skills and confidence required to speak with depth of knowledge. It’s important to acknowledge this known condition of becoming a teacher and pursue small, attainable goals.

Look for opportunities to hone your craft. There is a saying: The best way to learn something is to teach it. Find a local studio and see if you can audition to get on their list on the substitute teachers list. Learn how to facilitate classes over zoom and offer a free introductory session there. Get on the schedule at your local gym or YMCA. Reach out to a local hotel and see if you can give donation based classes to their guests. As a yoga teacher you will have to learn to balance hustle and flow. My early years of teaching were sometimes exhausting, but my willingness to put so much energy into my calling eventually allowed my career to evolve.

2. Have you found your voice?

I’ve seen that the most successful yoga teachers are the ones that can connect their own yoga transformation into their message. Think of your life as a research project. Glance back on what life was like before yoga and what it was like after. Make a list of several important things that shifted. There might be some clues in this information that will help you find your tribe.

Defining your message and niche audience is an important practical matter and can be approached analytically. Here is a quick checklist you might write out answers to.

  1. What three words best describe your teaching style?
  2. What unique gifts and talents do you posess that will help you communicate your message?
  3. What do your current or prospective students have in common?
  4. It would be terrible if students left my class with the idea that yoga is…
  5. What do you most want students to take away from practice?

3. Do you have a mentor?

A good yoga teacher will always be a student. Seek out and maintain a long term relationship with a teacher who inspires you. Be choosey. Make sure your teacher has a teacher and many years of practice under their belt. You might seek out an in person apprenticeship at their studio or pursue a long term online mentoring.

Learning the intricacies of hands on adjustments is a intricate process, so if you want to perfect your assists then you might want to commit to an extended period of in person study. Likewise, the sacred texts of yoga are dense and require a knowledgeable and patient teacher to unpack. You can seek out online and in person courses with yoga scholars to help these deeper dimensions take root.

4. Do you have a marketing plan?

Don’t depend on your studio or gym to do all your promotion for you. Take control of how your message is communicated, starting with the bond you build during class. Ticket sales platform Eventbrite says that 45% of students find new classes through word of mouth. So make sure to check in with students and make that personal connection.

You’ll also need to leverage technology. Build a website and collect email addresses so that you can launch a newsletter. Connect with local influencers and wellness brands to amplify each other through special events. Build out a strong social media presence and consider buying ads in certain cases. Always make getting into your class as hassle free as possible, so let your students know they can reach out to you personally with questions. 

5. Have you considered diversifying your income streams?

In other words, don’t quit your day job right away. When I began teaching yoga it was one class a week at a local hotel. I was also working full time at that same hotel mopping floors and scrubbing toilets. You can get creative in seeking ways to earn money. Look into partnerships with health brands through field marketing companies like Productions Plus, with whom I spent a year giving out samples of green juice at my local Whole Foods. You can even reach out to me and get on board as a Distributor with my WiWorldandI yoga mat brand!

Eventually that first hotel class of mine became two. Sometime later I booked a gym class and that eventually turned into a full time schedule. While I built up the skills and connections to teach yoga full time, keeping additional income streams made life much less stressful.

6. Keep Practicing.

No, This is not a question. Yes, this is number 6 on a 5 questions blog. Let this underscore the importance of maintaining your personal practice. Being a yoga teacher can be quite a challenge when you’re starting. As you begin to wrestle with new and confusing arenas like marketing plans and niche audiences, it’s so important to remember why you started.

For this Ashtangi, that means getting on my mat 5-6 times a week no matter what. For you a dedicated practice might look different, but it’s important to set an intention and follow through with it. Surround yourself with teachers and community that inspire you and keep you grounded in the power and potential of practice.

Yoga is a subject loaded with thousands of years of teachings. The modern world is allowing unprecedented access to these teachings and as such the number of people looking to benefit from yoga is increasing rapidly. We need good yoga teachers as much as ever and there is no reason why you can’t be one of them.

I make this sincere suggestion to you… Only seek to become a yoga teacher if it is your heart’s truest calling. If that describes you then you’ll always be able to remember the miraculous and transformative power of yoga in your own life. With this dharmic fuel you’ll be prepared to embrace all the ups and downs the journey to teacherhood throws at you.

Joseph Armstrong is an Authorized Level Two Ashtanga Yoga Instructor. He teaches early Mysore and workshops for Miami Life center and Internationally. He’s giving a workshop on Authentic Yoga Marketing later this month. Sign up here!

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