12 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Yoga Teachers
When you imagine a yoga teacher, you might think of a super-flexible, spiritually enlightened being who seems to radiate peace and benevolence. While it’s true that they inspire their students to harness energy, breathe, and master the downward dog position, yoga teachers also do a lot more than that. We asked a few yogis for the secrets behind their seemingly blissed-out trade.
1. THE BOTTOMS OF THEIR FEET ARE PROBABLY BLACK.
If you work in an office, your feet are most likely covered by shoes and socks. But yoga teachers work barefoot, walking on hardwood floors and stepping on and off yoga mats. Their feet are visibly affected by their work conditions, as Los Angeles yoga teacher Jen Netherby tells mental_floss: “The bottoms of my feet are almost always black since I'm always walking on floors barefoot as I teach."
2. THEIR JOB REQUIRES PLENTY OF NON-YOGA TIME.
Heather Otterbine, the owner of OmBodies Yoga studio in Chicago, tells mental_floss that a lot of time goes into teaching a one-hour class beyond that hour. “People are always surprised to learn that I don't ‘only’ practice yoga all day, every day,” she says. Yoga teachers spend time preparing to teach, driving to and from classes, marketing themselves online, doing social media outreach, hosting video webinars, and honing their own practice.
3. PAIN IS ALL AROUND THEM.
Although some students practice yoga to maintain their already-optimal health and wellness, many start yoga because of an injury or chronic pain. According to Netherby, getting in-depth anatomy training helped her better understand her students and how they move. “Lots of students, of all ages, are in pain in some way. I started to notice in my day-to-day how many people walk around with pain, just by how they walk or hold themselves. You really do learn to see people more clearly and have more compassion, as cliché as it is to say that,” Netherby says.
4. THEY’RE WARY OF TOUCHING YOUR MAT.
Because most yoga mats can quickly get sweaty and dirty, your yoga teacher is probably not too keen on touching it. Dr. Robert Lahita tells Elle that yoga mats can be rife with bacteria, fungi, and viruses. “Yoga mats are the worst …[they’re] a perfect incubator for many of our skin infections,” he reveals. To make your mat less germy, clean it regularly with a bleach-based cleaning spray.
5. TAKING CARE OF THEIR HEALTH IS VITAL.
In order to teach class after class, stay flexible, and be in peak physical shape, yoga teachers must take excellent care of their health. By limiting stress, meditating, and doing non-yoga workouts, yogis can bring a strong body and calm mind to class. Eating a good diet also helps them feel their best. To be in tip-top shape, many eschew soft drinks, alcohol, sugar, meat, dairy, and gluten.
6. MIRRORS CAN CONFUSE THEM.
Yoga teachers are constantly using directional signifiers—left, right, up, down—to instruct their students. Whether they’re teaching in front of a mirror or simply standing at the front of a room and mirroring their students’ poses, yoga teachers can understandably get confused about what’s left, right, or (in the case of headstands) up and down. “I spend so much time mirroring students in class that I sometimes have to pause and think which side is right and which is left in my own body,” Netherby admits.
7. MICROPHONES CAN SAVE THEM FROM LOSING THEIR VOICE.
Besides their bodies, the main tool that yoga teachers use to instruct students is their voice. To energize the class and keep everyone’s attention, especially when people are getting tired, good yoga teachers must speak loudly and avoid a monotone. Danielle Cuccio, an LA-based celebrity yoga teacher and CEO of Cuccio Somatology, tells mental_floss that when she first started teaching, she sometimes had to clear her throat by the time she was on her fourth client of the day. To keep her voice strong, Cuccio now teaches three times a day maximum and uses a microphone in some of her larger group classes.
8. THEY GO BEYOND THE PHYSICAL.
“Teaching yoga is like a secret superpower. You sneak in through the back door, and your students have no idea what hit them,” Jen Reuben, the co-owner of Salt Lake Power Yoga, says. Although yoga teachers help their students build physical stamina, they often see extensive improvements in their pupils’ mental health and emotional wellness as well. Cuccio explains that practicing yoga helps us slow down, feel more connected to our true selves, and stop overthinking.
9. PRIVATE LESSONS ARE THEIR BREAD AND BUTTER.
Unless they own their own successful studio, most yoga teachers struggle to make ends meet. They might get a flat rate, graduated rate, or commission based on the number of students who attend each class they teach. But vacation, health insurance, and raises are rare for yoga teachers who work as employees or contractors at a studio. Private lessons (in person or online) can command a much higher rate than teaching group classes, so many yoga teachers rely on them for a significant portion of their income.
10. THEY WISH YOU’D STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER STUDENTS.
If you look around the room comparing your crescent lunge pose to other students’, you’re probably not making your yoga teacher happy. “It’s a yoga practice, not a performance!” yoga instructor Gina Marciano says. Don’t be discouraged or jealous if the woman in front of you is gracefully flowing through her poses like a master yogini. Instead, focus on your own journey to slowly improve your fitness and stamina. And don’t be afraid to try a difficult pose, clumsily topple over, and get right back up.
11. THEY SMILE THROUGH BAD MOODS.
Yoga teachers are expected to be positive and encouraging, but sometimes that means they have to conceal their own bad moods. “You have your own life, your own moods, your own good days, bad days … But no matter what kind of day you’re having, you have to put on a smile,” Cuccio says.
Forcing a smile, though, can start a positive chain reaction. “It’s not that I’m avoiding what I’m really feeling, but I’m reminded of how much I love my clients and what I do. Moving with my clients, teaching them, smiling, and being the teacher that they come to class for makes me happy and makes that 'bad day’ maybe not so bad after that hour together,” she admits.
12. THEY’RE LIFELONG STUDENTS.
According to Serge Berliawsky, the founder and director of Shivakali Yoga in Los Angeles, yoga teachers must balance their role as a teacher with their own spiritual needs. “We are thrust into a position of some form of spiritual leadership … Yet at the same time, it is absolutely integral as a yoga teacher that we continue our own personal practice, mindfulness, self-growth, and self-reflection to maintain the purity and consciousness that enables us to hold such a position,” Berliawsky tells mental_floss.
By taking classes from other teachers and continuing to learn, yoga teachers can also keep their skills sharp and continue to innovate. “My students love when I apply new sequences and give them something totally new. It keeps it fresh and fun,” Cuccio says.
All photos via iStock.