The Secret Life of A Yoga Teacher: 10 Things You Might Not Know :: Chris Kourtinatos & Maya Devi Georg

 

Teaching yoga may seem glamorous and exciting to some. It appears we have boundless energy, that we just do yoga all day long, stretching and relaxing.  

We wish this was true. Teaching yoga is a job. A pleasure of course, but a job nonetheless. Here are some little known facts about what it’s like to teach:

We consider it a complete honor to teach you:

Guiding a group of people through a practice is such a humbling and moving experience that we’re sometimes on the verge of tears as the class ends—that’s the kind of impact it has on us.

Seeing the sincerity and vulnerability you bring to your practice, your courage in the face of fear, and experiencing your playfulness and sense of adventure when we show you something new is simply amazing.

Please realize that we’re human too: 

Some days we’re tired, our body hurts, and we’d rather be kicking back on a lounge chair with a drink in our hand having our feet rubbed while someone fans us with palm fronds.

Yes, there are days when we’re not always feeling all charged up and ready to teach but we dig deep and bring our best anyway. Just like you, we have bills to pay, children to care for, and all of the usual “stuff” to deal with. So sometimes we may seem not quite as cheery when class begins but the beautiful thing is that just a few minutes into teaching you, everything shifts and we’re getting just a yoga stoned as you are.

We’re not perfect (far from it) and sometimes our best efforts will fall short but let’s make a deal; you bring your best each time and so will we! 

Do you have any idea how thrilling it is for us to watch you progress?

Our favorite classes are the ones when we see one or more of you break through a barrier or progress in an asana—and we’re still grinning about it the next day. We all remember the milestones in our practice (including back when we couldn’t even touch our toes) so seeing you progress and grow is one of the non-monetary ways we get paid.

We still remember your first headstand like a proud parent and we especially love it when you do something we can’t do anymore (or never could). So, please keep coming to class and keep practicing!

Teaching beginners, people with debilitating injuries, and special populations is a much bigger challenge for us since it requires more training, patience, and attention:

Some teachers avoid these classes altogether and we think they are missing out.

The easiest thing in the world is to teach a bunch of young, fit, and bendy people in an intermediate or advanced asana class.  It’s like teaching a bunch of birds to fly—they already know how!

Recently we interacted with an up and coming celebri-yogi who claimed that all they want to do is teach young and healthy people. Well, of course! You don’t need to modify poses, make adjustments, or even pay a lot of attention when teaching young, healthy, and fit yogis. They more or less know the poses, they are less likely to get hurt (and if they do, they can just walk it off), and they progress rapidly.

BUT! For those long time teachers, with years of experience teaching, that have experienced injuries and illnesses, and the limitations that come with age, it is a joy! Teaching those that need yoga (and those with physical limitations and illnesses really need yoga!) is so much more satisfying. Watching the progress of someone struggling to walk again, or alleviating chronic pain is more satisfying than seeing you do a flawless handstand, or sitting on your head.

Sometimes when certain students show up, we get excited and know it’s going to be a great class because of the amazing energy they bring with them:  

Sometimes we’ll even encourage them to place their mat in a certain spot where their radiant energy can infect more students in the class. Yes, dear yoga student, sometimes your teacher needs a little extra boost and we’re blessed when you cannot just take energy from the class, but to bring and share it as well.

A class is a group experience, and the energy you bring with you affects the entire room! So, put aside your stinkin’ thinkin’ as you lay out your mat, and be open to change your mood and your mind. Yoga affects the most subtle aspects of our selves. Bring your best to every class, even if it’s the worst day of your life. There is solace and love to be found in our practice and our communities!

As we often say, a yoga class is like energetic stone soup, we all bring what we have with us to class, and make it a sincere offering which is mixed together. What is then served back to us is greater than what we gave, and exactly what we need!

Okay, it's no secret, but we do this because we love it—really:  

We sure aren’t doing it for the money! Sometimes we’re only getting $2-3 of that $15 drop in fee you paid and if you’re attending a yoga festival, we’re usually not getting paid at all.  Oh yeah, and we paid $4 to park there too and you’ll notice our car is not a Lexus but a beat up old Datsun with 230,000 miles on it. At a lot of studios, the yoga teacher is the poorest person in the room—something to remember.

We spend many years and thousands of dollars training to develop these skills and techniques to serve you and most teachers will never recoup materially what they’ve put into that. We do it because we want to share the beautiful gift of this practice, even when it means that doing so requires a sacrifice on our part. So please, respect this.

Also, keep in mind that keeping us after class for 10, 15, or 30 minutes is taking away our time, as well as studio time. Most classes are back to back. This can delay the next class from beginning, and steals time from the teacher of the next class, as well as all the students waiting for the space to be clear.

When our day is done, we want nothing more than to get home, eat, and, perform our necessary chores….maybe even practice ourselves! If you need that much time and have so many questions, book your teacher for a private lesson or consultation. Yes, it costs more. But, the information and personal attention you get in one session can transform your entire practice!

We really wish we could be more helpful when you ask us for advice on medical conditions and psychiatric issues but we are not trained and equipped to deal with them, nor would it be ethical for us to do so:

C’mon, our 200 or 500 hour training certificates (and many of us do spend a lot of extra time studying anatomy and physiology) do not come close to the years of study that goes into medical school and residency!

If there is a kink in your body, our training and experience can help to determine if there is something in your practice causing it or an asana to help it. If you are feeling down and confused, we have enormous supplies of compassion to share. Want some advice on your love life? Oh, we can always give you our opinion (which is exactly worth what you pay for it)! But beyond that, you need to go see a doctor, physical therapist, psychiatrist, therapist, or marriage counselor for anything else.

We don’t practice asana that often:

It’s true. And sad. But so much of our energy goes into your practice!  Most of us have a full-time job and teach part-time. That means a full day working at a desk (where our bodies can get stiffer than yours), followed by a mad dash to get to class so we can teach. Some of us teach full-time. That means 3-5 classes a day. If we’re lucky, they are at the same place. If not, we spend more time in transit than teaching.

Would we rather be practicing? Of course! The more we practice, the more we have to offer. But, it takes a lot more effort for us to find the time and energy to practice than you’d expect.

The secret: long time teachers are the ones that have found a way to teach and maintain their personal practice. So if you want the best possible class, find a long-time teacher/practitioner. Hint: They’re probably going to be older, have some gray hair, and not wearing the sexiest yoga clothes.

Just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we can teach it! Or, Just because we can’t do, doesn’t mean we can’t teach it:

A friend recently told us she didn’t want to do yoga anymore because it was too much like “performance art”. That made us sad. But, with yoga festivals having celebri-yogis perform asana “shows” (we used to call those ‘demonstrations’ but there was no rock band or light show), and a barrage of videos and photos on social media, it is no wonder people have that impression. yoga-junky-monkey

But, just because you can do a pose doesn’t mean you can teach it. A gymnast can perform asanas better than a yogi. A monkey can perform them better than a gymnast! While taking a class from a monkey may be interesting (and messy since they like to throw pooh), it may not be the transformative experience you’re looking for.

If we demonstrate a pose, it’s to show that pose and it’s progression, not to show off. If we are in fact showing off, please stop coming! It means we need an ego check and your lack of attendance sends a clear message.

We love seeing you connect and create friendships with other students, being inclusive and welcoming new people into the community:

This is how communities are born, how they grow, and how they thrive.

Community is an important part of the practice. In our communities we can share our joys and sorrows, and find strength when we are weak and share our strength when others need it. We learn more and grow more - together. Our spiritual communities are actually what keep us on our path, keep us teaching even if we are sacrificing financial comfort, weekends, health insurance, and dinners with our families.

It is our community that teaches us our most important lessons. Because it is in our communities that we see ourselves reflected first in students, and gradually, in all things. The biggest truth is that teachers are really just students. We teach to learn from you! And just like you, we are trying, just like you, to improve our practice, master our bodies and minds, and get back to our true Self.

 

About Chris Kourtinatos

avatarChris Kourtinatos is a yoga teacher, writer, and adventurer. Sincerely seeking transformation through spiritual sadhana and the integrity of daily living are what Chris most values on his journey as a teacher and life-long student. A dedicated yoga practitioner and teacher (who first learned from his mother at the age of seven), Chris Courtney, offers classes which enable you to link your breath, mind and body – allowing you to stay focused, calm, aware and steady. Chris trained with Doug Swenson and his multi-faceted vinyasa style of yoga; Sadhana Yoga Chi. His teachers and influences also include Swami Chetanananda, Meta Hirschl, David Swenson, and Tias Little. He currently teaches at various studios in Germany, as well as teaching workshops and events around the US and Europe. Chris has been a headline teacher at the Flagstaff Yoga Festival, the New Mexico Yoga Conference, and the Sedona Yoga and Wellness Festival. In 2012, Chris was voted the Best Yoga Teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico by the readers of Albuquerque Magazine. A former expat journalist, warrior and diplomat, Chris has appeared in Origin Magazine, Flow Yoga Magazine, Elephant Journal, LA Yoga, Integral Yoga Magazine, and Politico. His formal education includes a master’s degree in International Relations from the ETH Zürich and a Bachelor of Arts from Ball State University.

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Maya georg

Maya Devi Georg is a yoga teacher,  writer and editor at www.BrahmalokaOrBust.com and writer for Yoganonymous. She is also the co-founder and co-director of MahaLakshmi Yoga School and its Teacher Training Programs. She has studied with Swami Bua, Swami Jnanand, and Yogi Gupta (among many other amazing teachers). Studying since 1999, and teaching since 2002, she has also lead teacher trainin...READ MORE